Reno resource center aims to help immigrants, abuse victims ‘thrive, not just survive’
What started as a nonprofit to help and advocate for immigrant victims of crimes, domestic violence, abuse and trafficking in Northern Nevada, Tu Casa Latina has become a go-to helping hand for Latinos looking for resources in Spanish.
While neither a shelter nor a law firm, Tu Casa Latina is accredited by the Department of Justice and, since 2014, has provided guidance and support for immigrant women, men and children in Reno through visa paperwork. The team — made up of three case workers, an advocate and an outreach coordinator — also refers clients to other local agencies that could help, including shelters and housing, food banks and attorneys.
Tu Casa Latina is funded by a Services Training Officers Prosecutor (STOP) grant from Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Victims of Crime Act grant and the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child & Family Services, as well as via service fees from clients and donations.
Executive Director Sandra Quiroz said she uses her experience as a survivor of domestic violence and member of the Latino community to relate and advocate for others going through similar situations. Tu Casa Latina also holds events and training for the community and other agencies on how to work with survivors.
“I started thinking about what our community goes through. I thought, ‘I speak the language and I understand basic things within our community,’” Quiroz said about how she became involved with the organization. “I can only imagine what other individuals are going through that don't understand the language, have a language barrier and don’t have a legal status.”
Nevada's rate of intimate partner violence ranks above average. A 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that analyzed data from 2010 to 2012 found that 43.8 percent of Nevada women and 32.8 percent of Nevada men experience physical intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
Domestic violence refers to a violent crime or abuse that takes place within a household. It is often used as a synonym for intimate partner violence but it can also occur between a parent and child, siblings or roommates.
“As Reno continues to grow, the need becomes greater,” Quiroz said. “We see immigrant parents trying to find out how to maneuver the education system, how to figure out housing, how to figure out food or just simple legal issues. People call us and say, ‘Hey, I’ve gotten into an accident, I don't know who to call.’ It’s not our niche, not what we're set to do, but it's a need, our people need resources. And so we provide those resources.”
Some clients, Quiroz said, might be working with Tu Casa Latina for up to five years as follow-up support and resources are given and the client completes their immigration process. Quiroz estimated that the team has about 200 active cases that are in that timeframe and takes on between four to eight new cases every month — not including the calls for general assistance or resource information every week. Cases originate in Washoe County, rural Nevada and sometimes across state lines.
Tu Casa Latina does charge service fees for certain nonurgent cases, but Quiroz said clients are never turned away for economic reasons.
“We're not here to get rich. That is definitely not what we're here for. We're here to help our community out,” said Lety Reyes, a case manager at Tu Casa Latina. “We have our own stories that have helped us to understand what our community goes through. The main reason we do this is we want to make sure that there’s a safe space.”
‘Thrive, not just survive’
Reyes said Tu Casa Latina is aiming to increase awareness about workplace abuse and retaliation, especially among people who are undocumented.
Some workers might experience harassment, discrimination or threats from an employer and they could be too afraid to speak up, but Tu Casa Latina has worked with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to help those cases, Reyes said.
“Regardless of their status, if they're being abused by an employer or being taken advantage of by an employer and their rights are not being respected, we can work with them,” Reyes said, recounting a recent experience she had during a community event. A woman told Reyes that her employer fired her for speaking up when her check would not clear, leaving her without a paycheck and a job.
A work permit can be life changing, Reyes said, as it allows an immigrant to apply for work anywhere and leave an abusive work environment.
“Have you ever felt what it's like being an undocumented immigrant?” Reyes said. “It's not an easy choice to make and understanding the risks that come with it. We want our community to thrive, not just survive, and get out of the mentality of just barely surviving. We want to see them succeed.”