Settling months of dispute after a Journey Mental Health program for Hmong elders closed over a year ago, the Madison City Council approved dividing funds between two organizations that will provide services to the seniors.
On a voice vote Tuesday, alders approved a resolution authorizing $23,950 to both Freedom, Inc. and the Hmong Institute, totaling $47,900, to support senior activities programming for Southeast Asian seniors in 2019. The organizations also received another $57,500 each, totaling $115,000, for the same services in 2020.
Both organizations responded to the city's request for proposals. Community Development Division Director Jim O’Keefe said elders were tied to one organization or another, leading city staff to recommend splitting the funds.
“That suggested to us that to award all of the funds to one organization or the other was to deprive some number of elders access to some of the services,” O’Keefe said.
However, Freedom Inc. co-executive director Kazbuag Vag strongly disagreed with dividing the funds. She said the year-long process of securing funding for a replacement program has been “heartbreaking.”
“The money should follow the elders,” Vag said.
Throughout the process of securing services for Hmong elders, Freedom Inc. accused Hmong Institute president Peng Her and board president Mai Zong Vue of seizing control of Kajsiab House.
"We appreciate the City's commitment to make sure we don't forget our most vulnerable population in Madison," Vue said in a statement. "Funding from the City will allow The Hmong Institute to continue providing refugee trauma-informed care that is culturally and linguistically responsive to ensure there are no gaps in services to our elders."
Kajsiab House served Hmong elders, including refugees and veterans who fought for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Journey also provided a Cambodian Temple program, which served about 125 members of the local Southeast Asian population to gather and receive mental health care.
After Journey announced it was ending both programs due to financial challenges, the community rallied and raised the money to provide services to the end of the year, with contributions from the city, county, businesses and individuals. The city also committed money to fund those services in 2019 but did not specify a fiscal agent to receive the funds.
The program, now called Hmoob Kaj Siab, relocated to the Catholic Multicultural Center off South Park Street and provided services with Anesis Therapy and the Hmong Institute. It is now located at Life Center Madison, 4402 Femrite Dr.
Some elders moved to the offices of Freedom, Inc., a social justice organization for communities of color, which also began hosting services to Hmong elders at its facilities via an organization known as the Southeast Asian Healing Center (SEAHC). This center also supported continued services for elders at the Cambodian temple.
O’Keefe said he hopes the two organizations will be able to work together. The 2020 funding is contingent on inclusion in the operating budget for next year.
The city will conduct a broader request for proposal for senior programming, which will include services for Southeast Asian elders, in 2020 for funding in 2021.
“I’m hoping we’ll have better information and perhaps a chance for the organizations to collaborate,” O’Keefe said.