The national headquarters of the International Rescue Committee says it has found problems with the way its San Diego branch placed refugees in homes. The announcement follows a KPBS investigation into allegations that refugees were told to sign falsified rental documents to get their large families into apartments.
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This is part of an ongoing series about the struggles refugees face when they make San Diego County their home. The series is a collaboration of reporters, photographers, videographers and editors at inewsource, KPBS and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Why this topic? Since 2009, more than 23,000 refugees have settled in the county, more than any other region in California.[/feature_box]
Seven refugee families resettled in San Diego late last year told KPBS that local IRC staffers placed them in apartments that occupancy guidelines say were too small. Some of them said they knew family members’ names had been omitted from the leases, while others didn’t realize that had happened.
According to the rental documents, too many occupants could be considered a material violation of the agreements. Four families were asked to leave their homes because of too many people. The local IRC office initially denied coaching families to lie.
In a statement to KPBS Tuesday, the IRC’s national office in New York said: “We unfortunately have identified housing placement practices in San Diego which were inconsistent with the IRC’s policies and code of conduct. In response, we have taken steps to reinforce housing-related policies and practices with local staff and we have engaged with and are supporting families who may have been impacted.”
KPBS repeatedly requested a phone interview with the IRC’s national office to learn more about its findings and how it was helping families, but the agency has not replied. San Diego IRC Executive Director David Murphy has also not responded to requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, which awards federal dollars to resettlement agencies, said in an email that the agency was satisfied with the measures taken by the IRC.
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“The State Department requested that IRC conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations, and they have communicated to us that they have taken appropriate action to ensure that all refugees resettled through IRC in San Diego are served in full compliance with all relevant programs, guidelines, and codes,” the spokeswoman said.
KPBS reached out to the seven families it previously interviewed. One family said it has not been contacted by the IRC and was turned down when it previously contacted the local office for assistance. A second said the IRC also declined to help the family search for a new place. That family is now looking to move to Oregon. A third family said it was contacted by the IRC but refused the agency’s help because it no longer trusts the organization.
A fourth family said it did receive help from the IRC, which located a three-bedroom apartment for them with a six-month lease, but the family decided it was too temporary.
The families arrived last year during a surge of refugees in San Diego. The wave forced IRC staffers to rapidly find homes for refugees on limited means in one of the nation’s tightest and most expensive rental markets.
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inewsource is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to improving lives in the San Diego region and beyond through impactful, data-based investigative and accountability journalism.
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Below is a breakdown of staffing data at inewsource. We determine the composition of our staff by asking them to self-identify. It is based on a newsroom of 11 and a total staff of 15 as of August 2020. Percentages are based on 15 total survey responses. The numbers include full-time and part-time staff, full-time fellows and full-time and part-time interns.
Percentages are based on 15 total survey responses. The numbers include full-time and part-time staff, full-time fellows and full-time and part-time interns.
Percentages are based on 15 completed survey responses to this question.
Percentages are based on 15 completed survey responses to this question.
|Gender Identity||Gender Identity||Gender Identity|
|Sexual Orientation||Sexual Orientation||Sexual Orientation|
|Not specified||7%||Not specified||7%|
|Speak a language beyond English at home||33%||Speak a language beyond English at home||18%||Speak a language beyond English at home||75%|
|Hispanic or Latinx||20%||Two or more races||18%||Hispanic or Latinx||50%|
|Two or more races||13%||Hispanic or Latinx||9%|
|60 or older||13%||60 or older||9%||60 or older||25%|
* The percentages in the charts have been rounded and may not add up to 100.
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Lorie Hearn is the chief executive officer, editor and founder of inewsource. She founded inewsource in the summer of 2009, following a successful reporting and editing career in newspapers. She retired from The San Diego Union-Tribune, where she had been a reporter, Metro Editor and finally the senior editor for Metro and Watchdog Journalism. In addition to department oversight, Hearn personally managed a four-person watchdog team, composed of two data specialists and two investigative reporters. Hearn was a Nieman Foundation fellow at Harvard University in 1994-95. She focused on juvenile justice and drug control policy, a natural course to follow her years as a courts and legal affairs reporter at the San Diego Union and then the Union-Tribune.
Hearn became Metro Editor in 1999 and oversaw regional and city news coverage, which included the city of San Diego’s financial debacle and near bankruptcy. Reporters and editors on Metro during her tenure were part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning stories that exposed Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and led to his imprisonment.
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High-profile coverage included the historic state Supreme Court election in 1986, when three sitting justices were ousted from the bench, and the 1992 execution of Robert Alton Harris. That gas chamber execution was the first time the death penalty was carried out in California in 25 years.
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Mark J. Rochester began as inewsource managing editor in April 2021, having served as editor in chief at Type Investigations, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in Manhattan. He was previously senior news director for investigations at the Detroit Free Press. Both newsrooms, he notes, shared a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and their investigative journalism often received national recognition for exposing problems impacting communities of color.
His family looks forward to returning to California, having spent more than seven years in San Francisco where Rochester was a senior manager for the Associated Press. While with the news cooperative, he led computer-assisted reporting training efforts around the West, both inside and outside of AP, and conducted a widely used analysis of the $74 million in campaign contributions that went toward the California gay marriage ballot initiative in 2008. The AP analyzed who gave and why and then made the data available to member newspapers. The resulting series of stories based on the data was AP’s 2009 Pulitzer nomination for Local Reporting.
Rochester, who served as a Pulitzer Prize jurist in 2017, also has held senior leadership positions at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Denver Post, Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. Rochester is vice president of Investigative Reporters & Editors Inc., the 6,000+ member international organization dedicated to improving investigative journalism. He also serves on the national advisory board of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University in Washington, D.C.
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