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A new study says about 45,000 refugees now live in Utah and at least 220 separate organizations offer 388 programs to help them. But efforts often are not coordinated and may not give refugees what they really need where they need it.
The situation also makes it difficult to determine how many more refugees Utah might be able to handle at a time when grappling with massive population dislocation has become a worldwide concern.
That's according to a study released Thursday for the Utah Nonprofits Association, conducted by the Emperitas research firm and funded by Goldman Sachs.
So, for example, if multiple groups offer language classes, "You want them to work together to know where they are providing services to spread resources … rather than have competition among all these organizations to provide the same service too much in one place or too little in another," said Gavin Clark, project executive for Emperitas.
But the study says that coordination too often isn't smooth. In fact, no central database exists for available services or exactly which refugees are being helped and by whom. The study calls for creation of such a database and more cooperation.
While state leaders figure that about 60,000 refugees have immigrated to Utah in recent decades, about 45,000 of them still live here, according to the study. And Utah receives about 1,100 more each year.
In 2014, Utah took in 290 refugees from Iraq, 279 from Somalia, 126 from Burma, 108 from the Congo, 93 from Bhutan, and 58 from Sudan plus smaller groups from 18 other countries.
"That's a wide-world spectrum of people," Clark said, noting refugees often speak no English and come from radically different cultures and need everything from language training to basic instruction on how to shop or obtain a driver license.
The study said refugees live in 103 of the 111 ZIP codes in Utah, although most are concentrated in Salt Lake County.
Some ZIP codes have many services available for refugees such as 84111 around the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City but have few refugees actually living there, the study found.
Meanwhile some areas like ZIP code 84106 in eastern Sugar House have a large number of refugees but fewer services, Clark said. The study calls for more efforts to put services close to where refugees live.
The study also calls for more integration of programs for the general public to allow them to also serve refugees and to track what is given to whom.
Pearl Wright, interim director of the Utah Nonprofits Association, said the project "gives the state a great starting point on discussing ways to improve the experience of refugees in Utah."