Big Picture News: Language should not be a barrier

All who come to Solid Ground for housing, food and other services face challenges to meeting these basic needs – but there’s an added layer of complexity for our program participants who speak little or no English. To ensure that our services are available to all who need them – regardless of their primary language – we prioritize access to interpretation and translation services.

Language access for racial & social justice

Solid Ground program participants come from myriad cultural backgrounds and language traditions (including American Sign Language). To meet their unique needs, our staff access interpretation and translation services approximately 800 times a year for about 25 different languages.

Our Language Access policies are grounded in our racial and social justice work, as they are absolutely essential to our ability to meet people’s needs in an equitable manner.

Support for our staff

Connecting staff to language services gives them the tools they need to more competently work with limited-English speakers. We strive to leverage both internal and external resources to help staff do their jobs well.

Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Coordinator & certified Spanish interpreter/translator, leads a cooking demo at the Seattle Mexican Consulate. (Photo by John Bolivar)

Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Coordinator & certified Spanish interpreter/ translator, leads a cooking demo at the Seattle Mexican Consulate. (Photo by John Bolivar)

For nearly a decade, a staff Language Access Team – comprised of multilingual staff as well as those who frequently use language services on the job – has worked together to create policies, procedures and a resource guide to inform our work and continuously improve how we deliver services.

The team developed staff training in best practices when working with limited-English speakers, and tips for effectively working with interpreters.

Our Language Access policies support staff in making sure program participants have equitable opportunity to understand the services available to them. They also value the internal capacity of our bilingual employees to interpret and/or translate English into other languages.

Solid Ground also maintains multiple bilingual staff positions to meet significant language needs in different program areas. Bilingual staff are given extra compensation for their skills.

Language access in action

A few common and key ways we utilize language services include:

  • Face-to-face and phone meetings between families seeking housing and their case managers and advocates
  • Group interpretation for cooking and nutrition classes, advocacy listening sessions, and various workshops (e.g., financial fitness, tenant, homeowner)
  • To help domestic violence survivors navigate legal processes and create safety and stability plans
  • Phone interpretation for legal representation to help people access public benefits
  • Translation of key documents that include technical legal, housing or contractual language or where the consequences of misunderstanding could cause harm

In short, language access is key to Solid Ground’s mission, and we are committed to continually improving our services for limited-English speakers.

Big Picture News is a segment of Solid Ground’s Fall 2015 print newsletter. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 

She was always by my side / Ella siempre estaba a mi lado

Solid Ground’s February Groundviews newsletter and Big Picture News insert highlight our agency’s Language Access work. The lead article below shows Language Access in action via our HSS (Housing Stabilization Services). To read past issues of Groundviews, please visit our Publications webpage.

Laura Torres in her building lobby with her Case Manager, Pamela Calderón

Laura Torres in her building lobby with her Case Manager, Pamela Calderón

She was always by my side
(Interview interpreted & article translated by Pamela Calderón)

When Laura Torres moved to Seattle from Mexico City, she dreamed of a better life for herself, her baby boy and her husband. But eight years later and now separated from her husband, she desperately needed a stable place to live. “It all started when I lost my job,” Laura says. “I was living with my siblings, but we had a lot of problems – and my son and I needed our own space.”

Through her health clinic, Laura learned about Housing Stabilization Services (HSS), a Solid Ground program that provides financial and housing search support to Seattle-area people who would very likely lose their housing without the assistance. HSS helps people either hold onto housing or find a place to live, and prevents the spiral into homelessness.

HSS also highlights our Language Access efforts in action: Through HSS, Laura connected with a Spanish-speaking case manager, Pamela Calderón, who is originally from Bolivia. Laura says, “I always try to speak a little English, and I always ask questions, because I like it and I want to learn it.” However, when it came to the stressful process of searching for a place to live in a hurry, the opportunity to work with a case manager in her own language was invaluable.

“It is definitely not the same when you are getting help from a Spanish speaker than an English speaker, because working with an English speaker delays the process,” Laura explains. “I don’t understand English very well, and it is much easier to receive help with someone who speaks the same language.”

And beyond shared language, Laura is thankful for the cultural understanding Pamela was able to bring to to her situation. She tells Pamela, “You are Latina – you understand our needs. And being able to talk to you about my problems, you were able to help me.”

Laura says, “Once I was enrolled in the program, Pamela gave me a list of places that I could go and apply. She made sure that everything was fine; she did a good job. She was always by my side, helping me find a place.”

Pamela points out that Laura herself found the apartment she ended up moving into. Laura says,  “I was also doing my own housing search to find an affordable place with a good location so my son can be OK. The most important thing to me is to make sure that my son is fine and safe. So walking around, I found this place, and we really liked it.”

Laura now has a steady job with good hours. Her new housing is located in a brand-new, mixed-income apartment building with community spaces and resources for residents.

She says her 4th grade son is very happy: “We don’t have a computer, so here in the lobby area, he can access the computer. And they have games for him, and there is a gym. So he goes and takes advantage of it.”

Laura Torres in her apartment

Laura Torres in her apartment

Her apartment itself is spotless. “Look around,” she says. “Everything is really clean here and it is nice. I’m just very thankful for the program. It helped me a lot, and you can see the difference. I’m really happy here, but without Pamela, this wouldn’t have been possible.” ●

For more info, visit the HSS (Housing Stabilization Services) webpage, or contact Pamela Calderón at or 206.694.6841. 

Click more to view this article in Spanish!

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