No escape from danger: LGBT refugees fled to Kakuma Camp for their lives, only to be greeted with hostility

Story by KAYA DANAE

Photos by MBAZIRA MOSES and KAYA DANAE

Homophobia is pervasive in Kenya, and some LGBT refugees at Kakuma Camp say they have faced discrimination from fellow refugees and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) workers that has exacerbated living conditions in the overcrowded facility.

Mbazira Moses, a gay refugee currently living at the Kakuma Camp, said in an email interview, “I have been exposed to persecution and hostility ever since the time I arrived in Kakuma.”

Moses was assaulted and stabbed by a fellow refugee on Oct. 11, 2017. After reporting the incident to the police, Moses said nothing was done.

He claims he has been assaulted several times, but said police have never investigated. Instead of receiving help, Moses was jailed along with 18 other LGBT refugees who had peacefully protested their unfair treatment at UNHCR headquarters in Nairobi.

LGBT refugees peacefully protest at the UNHCR Headquarters in Nairobi.

After speaking with a lawyer, Moses was told to accept whatever charges were filed against him, as this was the only way he could expect assistance from UNHCR.

Established in 1992, Kakuma Camp is located in the northwestern region of Kenya. Ethiopian, Sudanese and Somali refugees fled their war-torn countries and came to Kakuma refugee camp, which is divided into four zones.

With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity by over 58,000 individuals. The camp has expanded and currently holds 77,092 refugees, according to the UNHCR Kakuma informational pamphlet.

Moses said many of the staff at Kakuma Camp are homophobic and view the LGBT community as cursed. Individuals are not given the same opportunities as other refugees. They are not employable because of their sexual orientation and are not given proper medical treatment. Many medical centers refuse to serve them at all, he said, and if they are treated, they are often refused medication and treatment for HIV.

Moses Mbazira holds the LGBT flag in his tent at Kakuma Camp.

According to Moses and many other LGBT refugees living at Kakuma Camp, they face eviction due to homophobic neighbors, leaving them homeless in the camp. UNHCR has placed the LGBT community in a housing section next to the river, where they face flooding and mosquitoes. Many of the refugees have malaria and are not given the treatment they need. The homes themselves are just tents, not properly covered to protect from the rain.

Thirteen UNHCR employees stationed at Kakuma Camp were contacted about Moses’ allegations of mistreatment toward LGBT refugees in the camp. Only four responded, and they said they could not comment.

“Agony has brought action,” Moses said. “Many of the LGBT members who have been granted asylum and refugee status under UNHCR within Kenya, receive consistent persecutions and grief by the host community and other members living within the camp. We (LGBT Community) have articulated our concerns to UNHCR but have been overlooked. This has caused a need to call on UNHCR to permit us a convention letter that will grant us a fair free movement to seek asylum in a country where we reserve the same rights as other refugees regardless of our sexual orientation.”

Barnabas Wobilaya, 36, is a gay Ugandan refugee and HIV/AIDS activist who was resettled in Salt Lake City. He fled Uganda and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2015. Wobilaya became an HIV/AIDS activist in Uganda because he had two siblings who lost their lives to HIV. Because of his activism, he was exposed as a gay man in the newspapers, lost his job, and had to move around a lot for his own safety.

“When you get to Kakuma, there is no housing. You arrive at the camp, and they give you land. You build your own house. They give you poles and a tent to put up yourself, some people use iron sheets for their roof,” Wobilaya said.

“The LGBT people are always the last people to get the services they need, always,” he said.

“Their cases are not being worked on. They have been there for years. Three years, five years. Cases of LGBT refugees are supposed to be fast because their need is so immediate. We suffer. I know people that have been in Kakuma since I arrived in Kenya that have still never seen their files. They don’t know what’s going on. Nothing happens.”

The resettlement process is in the hands of the Government of Kenya. Because Kenya still maintains largely homophobic outlooks  and policies, many LGBT folk are treated as criminals rather than asylum seekers and refugees.

“When I was in Kenya, I could not find a job,” Wobilaya said. “Kenyans know that many refugees from Uganda are gay. They are very homophobic. You go to the store to buy something, and they say ‘Uganda?’ and then they kick you out. You cannot buy things, if you can’t speak Swahili they will not give you service. They then say ‘these are gays’ in Swahili and you know to leave or else you will be beaten.”

LGBT refugees attempt to drain the water from the river that flooded their tent in Kakuma Camp.

Wobilaya was evicted from homes three times because his landlords discovered his sexual orientation. Many LGBT people are forced to live in Kakuma because landlords refuse to rent to them in Nairobi.

The UNHCR used to give refugees a stipend of 6,000 Kenyan shillings, which is about $60 U.S. per month. With that, they were supposed to pay their rent, medical bills, transportation cost and phone bill.

“Today they give them $45, but you have to pass an assessment that your living conditions are horrible, many people have to live in one room, a lot end up on the streets as sex workers so they can afford to live,” Wobilaya said.

“Now that I am in the States it is difficult to find ways to help. They tell me ‘we are dying’ and I can’t do much. After I pay my rent and bills I send my leftover money to my LGBT friends in Kenya. So I ask, let us help these people. Let’s fundraise. Help them to buy food,” Wobilaya said.

At Kakuma camp, World Food Program ( WFP) in partnership with UNHCR provides food distribution (maize, peas, flour, cooking oil, soap, salt, porridge) and some essential items like soap and toothpaste to every refugee within the camp.

However, the food supply has been continually decreasing, Wobilaya said, leaving LGBT refugees at a disadvantage since they are unable to find work and buy their own food. UNHCR has not created a system to notify LGBT members about their case progress levels, and they feel they cannot turn anywhere for support.

Wobilaya encourages the  LGBTQ community in Utah to help. “We in the LGBT community are one big family, so advocate for your brothers and sisters; that’s the only thing I ask.”

You can contact Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, the UNHCR head of sub-office in Kakuma, at cansizog@unhcr.org and you can donate to the LGBT Kakuma refugee community through a fundraiser established by a Salt Lake City LGBT activist.

 

 

 

 

 

Social media fundraising for refugees: A dream nightmare come true

Story and slideshow by JACE BARRACLOUGH

The creation of social media has connected people worldwide. For some, it’s a tool used to help refugees of war-torn countries. Through various organizations, a person can simply click a link that redirects them to a donation site where they can send money to provide relief to refugees struggling to survive financially, medically and educationally. But, knowing where the money is going is crucial.

Humanwire is a website geared toward assisting refugee families. It claims 100 percent of donations go to the cause. It was founded by Andrew Baron in Boulder, Colorado, in November 2015. It has marketed itself by encouraging its followers to share personal stories of their supported refugee families and donation campaigns via social media. Just like most businesses, Humanwire understands that word of mouth from those you trust bridges the gap between hesitation and execution when it comes to buying a product — or in this case, donating money.

“I was made aware of it because of another friend who posted about it on social media,” says Molly Jackson of Park City, Utah, in a phone interview. “When I saw her experience and how easy it was … [I said] I’m going to do that.”

Humanwire allows donors to choose a refugee family to support by way of social media-like profiles on its website. The amount that is donated, whether all at once or collectively, allows donors greater or lesser degrees of interaction with the family. Individuals providing smaller donations are awarded limited information about the family they have sponsored, whereas larger donations allow you to interact with them via live-stream on Skype.

Jackson says she hasn’t donated or posted about it for months. However, she receives email notifications that friends and strangers alike continue to donate to her chosen family as a result of her old social media posts. She’s received single donations to her Humanwire account totaling $1,000 to support her refugee family. Some are from people she doesn’t even know.

“It’s as easy as posting an Instagram post,” she says. “You just say, ‘Look at these people. They are in need. I’m the host. Here’s the link. Donate your money.’”

Trusting that their friends and loved ones are vetting the organization, it has left little thought for many to follow through with the research portion of the company before handing over their hard-earned dollars.

In the summer of 2017 it was claimed in a YouTube video, posted by Humanwire’s co-founder Andrew Baron, that the director of its “Tent to Home” program, Anna Segur, had stolen $10,000 via ATM withdrawals.

“The theft was followed by intense slander, criminal activity and harassment,” Baron says in the description portion of his video. “She caused many people to join her cause, misleading volunteers to believe that she owns and controls Tent to Home, and causing many of our staff members to quit out of pure fear for her slander.”

The other co-founder of Humanwire, Mona Ayoub, was living in Lebanon, taking care of the company’s donations, schools, students, teachers, employees, and registering refugees. In August 2017 after the funds stopped, Ayoub said via Facebook Messenger, she flew to the United States to get to the bottom of the issue. Unfortunately, she discovered Baron had mismanaged the funds and misrepresented the way they were being used. She said Baron claimed the money had gone toward operating costs even though Humanwire had promised all donated funds would go to the refugees.

In September 2017, Baron later admitted to the Denver Post to have taken as much as $80,000 over the last two years. However, after a police investigation, it was discovered that Baron had taken over $100,000 from Humanwire and was arrested on felony charges of charity fraud and theft.

Ayoub submitted her letter of resignation on November 1, 2017.

“Had I known the extent of mismanagement and misrepresentation prior to traveling to the United States, I would have resigned immediately,” Ayoub said.

Yet more problems have surfaced since the claims against Humanwire. The organization has started to lose its partnerships with other organizations dedicated to helping refugees.

“Standing With Alana” is a group whose mission is bringing awareness and aid to the Yezidi people from Syria who are facing a genocide at the hands of ISIS.

On October 8, 2017, Standing With Alana announced via Facebook, “Standing With Alana is no longer working through Humanwire due to financial problems within the organization. We are now communicating directly through Yezidi Emergency Support (YES).”

Yezidi Emergency Support team leader Anne Norona was one of Humanwire’s contacts overseas. As Baron tried to extinguish the flames of ridicule on Humanwire’s Facebook page, Norona added more fuel by expressing her frustrations in a reply to Baron’s YouTube video, which he later shared on Humanwire’s Faceboook page.

“I asked you in JUNE to send the money when I last went to Iraq,” she says. “There are FOUR Yezidi families you owe a LOT of money to.”

With allegations publicized, both internally and from its partners, it has left donors wondering what happened with the money intended to help their refugee families.

“I did photo shoots and donated all the money I made to them,” says Terra Cooper of Syracuse, Utah. “It was a sacrifice for my family since usually that’s how I pay for our Christmas.”

Through Humanwire, donors like Cooper have their own financial account to hold money for their refugee family. Whenever the family needs certain items they can use that money to purchase them on Humanwire’s site and have it delivered by local representatives. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work?

“I’ve released money for surgeries and medical bills and they’ll send me a picture of them holding the check,” Cooper said in a phone interview. “They’ve been good at sending that kind of stuff.”

However, she says she’s noticed over the last few months things haven’t quite been the same. Cooper has had approximately $1,000 left of the $3,000 she raised in her family’s account, but she has been unable to use it.

“I’ve been trying to release that $1,000 for their rent for three or four months and it still hasn’t been released,” she says. “I have been emailing them and I haven’t heard back.”

Cooper even went as far as commenting on Humanwire’s Facebook page asking for answers, but says her post was deleted by the company. When trying to get in touch with her point of contact, she was made aware that person had left the organization.

“I’m sick about it,” she says. “I don’t care about me, though. That money was supposed to be rent money for my refugee family.”

Cooper’s love for her refugee family, with whom she has kept in contact, is what has fueled her to investigate the dealings of her funds. After all, at the end of the day it’s the refugees, not the donors, who suffer the biggest loss.

“The organization did do a lot of good in the beginning,” says Laurel Sandberg-Armstrong, a donor of Humanwire. “My guess is they expanded too fast and lost control,” She said in a phone interview.

The Federal Trade Commission encourages anyone who is thinking about donating to a charity to do research beforehand. Well-known organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are generally good options for those wanting to donate.

Humanwire was contacted for comment. An employee replied via Facebook Messenger saying the accusations were misunderstood and they still encourage people to support their organization.

“Humanwire is awesome,” a representative from Humanwire said in a Facebook message. “Please give it a try and see for yourself.”

 

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Refugee Justice League, SLCPD work to help refugees feel comfortable with justice system

Story and photos by EMILY ANDERSON

When then 17-year-old Abdullahi “Abdi” Mohamed was shot by police in downtown Salt Lake City in 2016, a wave of shock washed over the community.

According to reports from The Salt Lake Tribune, police said Mohamed was involved in an altercation and armed with a metal broomstick. When police ordered him to drop the weapon, Mohamed appeared to attempt to hit the man he was fighting, so officers fired at him. Mohamed’s family later disputed these claims.

Hundreds mobilized in support of the Somali refugee and rallied against police brutality toward people of color. Meanwhile, many refugees living in the Salt Lake Valley were paralyzed with terror.

“Anytime there is a publicized law enforcement-refugee conflict, it reinforces the fear [of law enforcement],” said Brad Parker, one of the founders of the Refugee Justice League, in a telephone interview.

IMG_7098s

Abdi Mohamed was shot by Salt Lake City Police at 200 S. Rio Grande St.

Refugees frequently have negative memories of police in their home countries, according to Natalie El-Deiry, the deputy director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) — one of the agencies that resettles refugees in Salt Lake City. Along with the military, law enforcement is commonly used to silence those who speak out against an oppressive government.

“One thing that is often the case with people who have fled persecution from another country is that they often didn’t have the protection of law enforcement when they fled,” El-Deiry said in a telephone interview. “So when people first arrive, there is definitely a skepticism or uncertainty around whether law enforcement is really there to protect you.”

Police officers frequently participate in behaviors considered war crimes by international organizations like Human Rights Watch. For example, Kenyan police officers repeatedly target Somali refugees with rape, arbitrary arrests and unlawful deportations.

Jodi Larson-Farrow of the Boise Agency for New Americans, which helps resettle refugees in Boise, Idaho, has interviewed recent refugees about their feelings toward police. Her research was included in a report on law enforcement relations with refugees released by the Police Executive Research Forum in May 2017. The words and phrases refugees most commonly associate with police, she found, are “fear, rapist, power, corruption, intimidation, no trust, they will beat you, they will take your life and run from them.”

“In addition to the language and cultural barriers that separate refugees and police in many U.S. localities, there is a deeper source of distrust that can hamper engagement from the outset,” read the report. “To fully understand the barriers that may stand in the way of building trust, U.S. police must be educated about the historical experiences of refugee communities with their native police forces.”

Refugees’ understanding of the U.S. justice system also tends to be influenced by the way criminal cases are handled in their country of origin. The Police Executive Research Forum’s report said that refugees’ home countries generally convict people of crimes more quickly than in the U.S. These experiences, the forum believes, led to confusion after Abdi Mohamed was shot.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department [SLCPD] discovered in the aftermath of a police-involved shooting of a refugee that members of the refugee community assumed there would be no consequences for the officer, simply because the investigation was still pending and they had not been aware of the process,” the report said. “As a result of this incident, the department recognized the need to expand their educational efforts to avoid confusion surrounding such issues in the future.”

After Abdi Mohamed was shot, SLCPD held town halls to assuage the fears of the refugee community and hosted Citizens Academy, which allows refugees and other Salt Lake City residents to learn how the department functions. SLCPD also has a refugee liaison, Detective Robert Ungricht, who attends community events in an effort to get to know refugees.

Ungricht said in a telephone interview that the department is working to bring refugees onto the force, but are running into problems because many refugees aren’t citizens. This is an issue that the Utah State Legislature, or even Congress, he said, would have to address.

“We’re trying our hardest,” Ungricht said. “We get told a lot that the refugee community sees that we’re really doing a lot more than some agencies. I’m happy to hear that they’re happy that we’re trying to fight for them and fight for their rights and give them these opportunities.”

The Salt Lake City Public Safety Building houses the Salt Lake City Police Department’s refugee liaison and Citizens Academy.

SLCPD attends orientation sessions given by the International Rescue Committee for newly-arrived refugees. Natalie El-Deiry said the police department has become an advocate for refugees who are feeling unsafe in the community.

“There’s always room for improvement, but I think [SLCPD] is doing a really great job,” El-Deiry said.

However, Brad Parker feels refugees in the Salt Lake Valley still struggle to rely on law enforcement. His group, the Refugee Justice League — a coalition of lawyers formed to defend refugees’ rights — is now trying to bridge that gap.

“The Salt Lake City Police Department has done a great job in an outreach effort to build trust with refugees,” Parker said. “The fear is just deep-seated enough that it hasn’t completely worked.”

The league was formed after President Donald Trump was elected, as some refugees faced harassment and were concerned about the prospect of Trump following through with threats to build a Muslim registry. Attorneys who have since joined the organization wanted to help represent refugees who feel they are being discriminated against or are in trouble. All lawyers working with the league do so pro bono.

If a refugee is at the police station, Parker said, an attorney will go meet with the refugee. The attorney will communicate that everything the refugee says is confidential and that the attorney’s priority is to help. If the refugee has been accused of a crime, the Refugee Justice League will then secure a criminal attorney. If needed, the representative will help the refugee communicate with police.

“In those cases, it’s a win-win. It’s a win for refugees, and it’s a win for law enforcement,” Parker said.

To help refugees navigate encounters with the police, the Refugee Justice League has distributed personalized cards. Each card includes the refugee’s name, photo and preferred language. It says that the cardholder is represented by an attorney from the Refugee Justice League and gives the refugee instructions on how to comply with law enforcement while protecting the person’s rights.

“We did the cards to help the refugees become more fully-engaged participants in the legal system,” Parker said. “It gives us the chance, as we assist them, to model appropriate behavior when you’re dealing with police — that is a polite, cooperative behavior in many instances.”

In order to receive the card, refugees must complete a training that instructs them on when it is appropriate to show it. The Refugee Justice League tells them not to use the cards in incidents like traffic stops or domestic disputes. Refugees are also taught how they are expected to react to police.

Parker said the organization had three goals in creating the cards — to protect refugees’ rights, to reduce fear and build trust and to enhance communication between refugees and law enforcement. Because refugees are often not yet citizens, giving police a false statement out of fear or not following instructions can result in a withdrawal of their refugee status and deportation.

“A lot of times if refugees are questioned by the police, they just clam up,” Parker said. “Sometimes they’ll pretend that they don’t understand the language — and sometimes they don’t. They’re worried that they might get in trouble for something they say, so they say nothing.”

When the card was first proposed, Ungricht worried that the cards would destroy the trust SLCPD has worked to develop with refugees.

“I was like, ‘That’s going to create some major tension,’” Ungricht said. “It’s going to knock down a lot of bridges that we’ve built in the [refugee] community.”

Since the league announced the program, they have worked with numerous groups including SLCPD, the International Rescue Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union to make changes to the card. El-Deiry said that through these conversations, the cards can accommodate all parties.

“I think that there is potential for [the cards] to be helpful,” said El-Deiry. “I think that there are some concerns around the Justice League actually working with law enforcement themselves to make sure that there is a unified voice around that, and those are some discussions that we’ve had and they’re ongoing.”

The Refugee Justice League believes that through the combined effort of SLCPD and attorneys, refugees will feel safer in the Salt Lake Valley. As a result, the league hopes refugees will be more cooperative and further integrated into the justice system and society.

But first, Parker said, law enforcement must continue to build relationships with refugees on an individual level.

“A lot of them are scared of talking to the police,” Parker said. “These psychological scars that they have aren’t just easily set aside. It’s hard to say, ‘Oh, don’t worry anymore, now the police are your friends.’ You can preach that all you want, but until they’ve had an experience that helps them realize that, there’s sort of this deep-seated fear that comes from their past.”

Read a related story about the Refugee Justice League.

Ukrainians flee the iron fist

Story and photo by JACE BARRACLOUGH

“Me and my wife had to escape and almost got killed since we never supported Russia”

 

Protesters rally in the Maidan. Photo courtesy of Art Ira via Facebook.

The winter of 2013-14 changed the lives of Ukrainians forever. Thousands were displaced and forced to find shelter in either refugee camps located in more peaceful areas of Ukraine or across the border in Russia.

This happened when former Ukrainian President Yanukovych decided to back out of joining the European Union (EU), which would have allowed better trade with European countries and a step toward westernization.

Instead, Yanukovych rejoined with Russia. In the bitter cold, citizens took to the streets to protest the decision and demand the impeachment of their president.

Thousands of protesters filled the town square in Kiev, also known as the Maidan. Not even the Berkut (riot police) could force them out. A civil war erupted between the Berkut and protesters. It was then that President Yanukovych fled to Russia and gave the Russian military permission to take control of the situation.

As bombs shook some homes and demolished others, thousands of Ukrainians fled, only taking what they could fit inside the suitcases they would be carting around for months, potentially years.

According to the United Nations, there are over 2 million Ukrainians displaced and another 300,000 seeking asylum in neighboring countries.

Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director for Catholic Community Services, says that refugee camps are crowded and some of the tents may be filled to capacity, forcing people to make their own shelter using other resources.

Batar says one can receive refugee status for various reasons, but in the case of Alex Evgeniya — it was his political affiliation.

“We are refugees from Ukraine, but our status is still pending,” Alexey Evgeniya says.

Evgeniya and his wife are from Crimea, a peninsula that was part of Ukraine until Russia invaded in February 2014. Russia then decided to annex the peninsula making it its own.

“Me and my wife had to escape and almost got killed since we never supported Russia,” he says.

Along with their escape comes anonymity. They, as well as many other Ukrainian refugees, are reluctant to divulge information in fear of Russian intelligence intercepting any and all channels of communication, thus putting their own lives in danger.

Ukraine is no stranger to conflict. Ukraine fought for Germany in World War I. In World War II Ukrainians were divided. Some fought for Germany, others Russia and many for their own independence.

As a country pinned between the influences of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it seems they’ve battled a constant game of tug-of-war being pulled in all different directions. It wasn’t until 1991 that Ukraine declared its independence from the USSR.

However, in 1994 Ukraine signed an agreement to be protected by the Russian military. Thus, allowing Russia to once again grab hold.

“I feel that refugees [are] afraid to talk about their stories,” says Oleh Kernytsky, mission facilitator  at St. Jude Maronite Catholic Church in Murray. “It is not only for security reason[s], but they don’t want [to] go again through all troubles they had in the past.”

Kernytsky says most refugees he associates with tend to focus more on life since their resettlement and choose to leave the past where they believe it belongs — in the past.

One of Kernytsky’s congregation members was a professional bobsledder who trained for the Nagano, Japan, Winter Olympics. Though she was the superior athlete, another candidate bribed the officials and made the team instead.

She was discouraged but decided to continue training for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. This time she made the team.

It was unclear as to what the “bribe” entailed. However, it would be one of the major factors as to why she didn’t dare go back to Ukraine following the 2002 Olympics after making and competing in the bobsledding event she was denied four years prior.

Seeking asylum, she stayed in Utah and graduated from the University of Utah with a Ph.D. in physical therapy. She is now married with children and works as a physical therapist in Salt Lake City.

Class at the University of Utah.

It’s likely tough to imagine something good on the horizon when you are engulfed in such hostile and tense situations. But tragedy often helps one to understand and appreciate the most important things.

Aden Batar helps us to recognize most of those things aren’t necessarily tangible.

He says, “Peace is something you cannot buy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good cop, good cop

By: Mike Haglund

With all the bad publicity and negative media, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to put up with all of that. I talked with two individuals to discuss just that. Sergeant Bryan Peterson of the West Valley City Police, and Mario Widdowson, an intern for Unified Police currently under going the interview process to become an officer. For both of them, the desire to become a policemen started out as a child’s dream, and confirmed later in life when they had a positive interaction with a policeman.

For Sergeant Peterson, that experience came when he was in 5th grade he was a victim to an attempted mugging and had a knife held to his throat. “The detective assigned to my case” he said, “was very caring and worked very hard on my case. I was never able to ID the suspect, but the professionalism by the detective impacted me and my desire to be a police officer.”

“I want to be a policeman first and foremost” Widdowson explained, “because it was a police officer who had the most positive impact on my life when I was 18 years old and getting into trouble.” He also hopes to be accepted into the program so that he can have a positive influence on the community that he was raised in and have the opportunity to change a life like the officer who changed mine.

Two individuals with very different backgrounds, both with the desire to help their community. So why do the police have such big targets on their backs, and are put in such a negative light? As Widdowson and I discussed this question, we both agreed that where you grow up, and the experiences you have with the police have the most impact on your personal perception of them. We discussed that perhaps socioeconomic status played a big factor in crime. The majority of people don’t commit crimes because they’re bored, they do so out of necessity. If someone grows up in the projects of Baltimore and has negative interaction with the police from the time they’re very young, there’s a pretty good chance that they won’t grow up to respect the police.

We’re all human and humans make mistakes. When we make a mistake in school, we get a few points docked off our grade. At work when we make a mistake, your boss will bring you into their office and take corrective measures. Just like anywhere, there are good apples, and there are bad apples. But, when you are a public servant working out in public, everybody has their eyes on you, watching everything you do. When you do something wrong, people will pull out their cameras and start recording you, and in the blink of an eye that video will be posted on countless social media outlets. Soon enough it will be circling the news on a 24-hour cycle.

While talking with Sergeant Peterson, and Widdowson I asked them if their departments do anything from a public relations perspective to help counter all the negative media. Sergeant Peterson said that for a long time his department didn’t do anything PR wise, and thought that might have hurt them. They now have someone in charge of their social media, they have even posted pictures to Facebook of people they are trying to identify to get the public involved as well. Every summer, Unified Police holds an annual event called “Night Out Against Crime.” The goal of the event is to increase public awareness of crime prevention, build bridges between law enforcement and the community, and send the message to criminals that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back against crime. Widdowson also told me that they host a citizen’s academy where you take a class once a week for a few months and learn a variety of things that relate to police work. He says “people really do learn a lot from this experience and I would welcome anyone to go to it. You start to think more like a police officer and can better put yourself in their shoes.”

I asked Sergeant Peterson I asked him if there was anything the public can do to help change the effects of the negative media. He replied by saying, “I wish the public would ask the media for more heartwarming stories, or even call in to the media when they see good things happening. There are a lot of cops in the Salt Lake Valley doing a lot of good work that goes unnoticed.”

Tax incentives in Utah for hiring people with disabilities may go unnoticed

Story and photos by DYLAN LIERD

Federal and state tax credits aim to help Utah businesses hire people with disabilities. However, many companies may be unaware of the incentives that also strive to reduce the number of unemployed Utahns with disabilities.

Work Ability Utah, located at 1595 W. 500 South in Salt Lake City, advocates for unemployed Utahns with disabilities.

Work Ability Utah, located at 1595 W. 500 South in Salt Lake City, advocates for unemployed Utahns with disabilities.

According to Work Ability Utah, an organization that links employers with the workforce of people with disabilities, tax credits such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Utah Targeted Job Tax Credit are available for all businesses who are willing to hire Utahns with disabilities. But Carol Rudell, project director for Work Ability Utah, said not enough businesses are taking advantage of these credits.

“I see businesses that are perfectly willing to hire people with disabilities, but there are others that don’t know about the incentives,” Rudell said. “I see a lot of misses out there and a lot of stereotypes that are not true, and when people have more information they are more than happy to hire people with disabilities.”

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a federal tax credit that is designed to encourage cooperation with the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Work Ability Utah’s website, businesses can earn an annual tax credit of $2,400 per hired person with a disability. Businesses can also earn a $9,000 yearly tax credit when hiring a disabled veteran. To receive these incentives, businesses must complete the Internal Revenue Service Form 8850 and the Employment and Training Administration Form 9061.

Businesses can also receive state tax credit by applying for the Targeted Job Tax Credit. According to the Utah State Tax Commission’s website, the purpose of its creation is to entice companies to hire people with disabilities in order to foster an integrated workforce.

The allotted credit minimizes the amount of income tax the business has to pay, and the amount of money the company receives is based on the salary paid to employed individuals. The maximum credit given is $3,000 per employee per year. This is a credit that can be received for the first two years that the person with a disability is employed. Companies are also not limited by the amount of individuals they can claim under the Targeted Job Tax Credit.

The Division of Services for People with Disabilities ensures the rights of Utahns with disabilities. DSPD is located at 195 N. 1950 West
 in Salt Lake City.

The Division of Services for People with Disabilities ensures the rights of Utahns with disabilities. DSPD is located at 195 N. 1950 West
 in Salt Lake City.

In order to apply for these services, the person with the disability must be eligible for services from the Division of Services for People with Disabilities. Businesses must then complete a TC-40HD form and have it approved by an authorized representative from DSPD.

Tricia Jones-Parkin is the program administrator for DSPD. She is the authorized person who accepts these tax credit forms. Jones-Parkin is tasked with training job coaches and approving businesses that apply for the Targeted Job Tax Credit. Job coaches are responsible for teaching employers how to professionally treat people with disabilities, and how employers can receive tax credits by hiring Utahns with disabilities. However, she said more businesses should be taking advantage of The Targeted Job Tax Credit.

“I haven’t received a single form turned into me this year,” said Jones-Parkin in a phone interview. “When I do training for job coaches, I tell them to tell businesses about the Targeted Job Tax Credit, but there is still not many businesses that do.”

Jones-Parkin also said that nationally, people with disabilities are the most under employed demographic. In Utah, the state is not doing much better than the national average.

According to the Department of Labor’s website, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 13.1 percent. This is more than double the unemployment rate for people without disabilities, which is 6.8 percent. That is why Jones-Parkins said that beyond the tax credits that Utah businesses receive, it is important to hire Utahns with disabilities in order to reduce this number.

In Utah, the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities works to advocate the importance of hiring people with disabilities to employers.

Leslee Hintze, executive director for the Governor’s Committee, said its members speak to employers about the tax benefits for hiring people with disabilities in order to entice businesses to hire these individuals.

“Once we advocate tax incentives to employers who have a tendency to say, ‘I don’t know if I can take this on,’ they are more likely to hire and continue to hire people with disabilities,” Hintze said in a phone interview. “Businesses really find out that they are great employees, they make the workplace better and they really do a lot for the business they are working for.”

According to the Committee’s website, businesses will also not see their Worker’s Compensation Insurance or Medicaid Insurance rates rise when they hire people with disabilities. Regardless of the incentives, Hintze said it also benefits the U.S. economy to hire people with disabilities so they can contribute financially to society.

“People with disabilities can give back tenfold by becoming taxpayers, which means they will become tax producers and not tax users,” Hintze said. “A country that does not take care of its least fortunate citizens, to me is pretty deplorable. It is a moral imperative, which is why businesses should be looking for opportunities like these because everyone will benefit.”

The potential effects of marriage for people with disabilities

Story and graphic by ANGIE BRADSHAW

Costs of cerebral palsy

For most people, getting married is the happiest day of their life. But for Utahns with disabilities, it means something much more complex.

It means they could lose all their state-funded benefits or they could be substantially decreased. Most people in online articles refer to this as the “marriage penalty.” This leaves individuals to choose between marriage and continuing to receive benefits. Furthermore, many people in online articles also believe this is an “anti-family” law and that something should be done about it.

The Utah state government assists single people with disabilities to help cover costs and provide additional accommodations where needed. This could be through Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance or Social Security Income.

“The theory is that a couple can live on less income together than they would as individuals,” wrote B.J. Stasio, an advocate on gaining awareness for this topic. Furthermore, Stasio wrote, “The marriage penalty is misdirected and wrong because it prevents may people with disabilities from getting married or even staying married. People with disabilities deserve to be able to get married to the one they love.”

But what happens when that’s not the case or both individuals have disabilities?

Carly Fahey, a senior at the University of Utah, has cerebral palsy, a developmental disability.

She was born healthy, but her lungs were slightly underdeveloped so she stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Florida for the first few weeks of her life. Fahey said it was there that the nurse administered a little too much oxygen, resulting in a neurological block to a portion of her brain. This caused a lapse in communication between her brain and her motor movements, specifically her legs and feet.

She has to use a walker to assist her in getting around. She said it also affects many parts of her body. For instance, she can’t control her body temperature and her eye coordination can become constrained and shifty. This can cause anxiety and severe migraines.

On a lighter note, Fahey said in an email interview, “I see the cerebral palsy as one of the brighter and more fun things about myself. There’s never a dull moment and I keep a really humorous outlook on things. I do everything that any college student would be planning on doing, except because of my disability … I always have a plan!”

Fahey says that many people with disabilities wait a very long time before getting married or decide not to do it all because of the negative impact it could have on their lives.

She has a friend with a similar disability who told Fahey how much she feels like she will have to give up — just for her right to get married. It can be quite the dilemma because the personal insurance companies are reluctant to insure individuals when they know that the state provides those insurance benefits already, Fahey said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average lifetime costs for someone with cerebral palsy are estimated at $921,000. To break this down, it’s approximately $742,326 for indirect costs, $93,942 for direct medical costs and $84,732 for direct non-medical costs. This does not include emergency room visits and out-of-pocket expenditures. The dilemma can be overwhelming in deciding what’s the best option for all interested parties.

Of all the difficult things Fahey has encountered, the marriage issues will be one of the biggest challenges for her to navigate, she said.

“I’m confident that marriage will be wonderful,” Fahey said, “but figuring out the legal details will be an obstacle for sure. Something needs to be done.”