SISO no longer haunts immigration services: report

Survey shows service providers emerging from shadow of disgraced organization

HPIC survey shows service providers emerging from shadow of disgraced organization

The city's immigrant agencies say they are working better together

Two years after the ignominious collapse of the city’s controversial Settlement and Integration Services Organization, Hamilton’s immigrant community is being served by a more cohesive network of providers, according to a new report.

The Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council’s (HIPC) Settlement Service Providers Working Group — a partnership between a collection of Hamilton’s largest immigrant services providers — surveyed 378 front-line providers from the settlement, health, education, housing, language training and government sectors and found that there have been significant improvements in co-ordination and collaboration since SISO’s 2011 fall from grace.

A report based on the HIPC’s Work Group’s survey shows that 97 per cent of the respondents state that they ‘occasionally’ or ‘usually’ refer newcomer clients to different service providers, and 67 per cent- a 30 per cent increase since 2011- feel they can easily find the required information to refer clients to other providers.

This is good news for an immigrant services community attempting to turn the page on a particularly ugly episode that includes allegations of corruption and theft.

SISO, once Hamilton’s largest immigration settlement agency, was established in 1990 as a small, one-stop organization designed to help assist immigrants navigate the labyrinth of services available to them.  Over the years it grew to employ close to two hundred people, and provided support for thousands of newcomers while receiving millions of dollars in government grants.

SISO began to implode, though, when its leadership was accused of defrauding the agency of significant amounts of cash.

In 2011, a joint Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Hamilton police investigation into the activities of SISO’s senior leadership was launched. Then executive director Morteza Jafarpour and Ahmed Robert Salama were eventually a charged with stealing more than $4 million from the organization. The pair are set to go on trial in August.

The survey’s results, according to the HIPC Working Group, is proof that the services offered to newcomers to Hamilton have improved considerably over the last two years.

Ines Rios, the executive director of St. Joseph Immigrant Women’s Centre, said that the fall of SISO had been a "big factor" in improving services for immigrants.

"SISO did some wonderful things, but it also did things that weren’t so wonderful. They didn’t collaborate with smaller providers, so service suffered.  It is a more shared approach now."

Jim Commerford, chair of the HIPC and president of the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford, attributed the improvement in services offered to newcomers to a renewed focus on a collaborative approach between various agencies, as opposed to a more guarded, independently minded focus.

Commerford also noted that the HIPC has gone to great lengths to engage the "informal sector" of service providers in order to serve recently arrived immigrants more effectively.

"Often when immigrants come here, the first lines of support are family and friends. We’ve worked hard to engage with that informal sector, and look at the immigration experience through the eyes of the newcomer."

The HIPC Working Group includes leadership from the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford, St. Joseph Immigrant Women’s Centre and Wesley Urban Ministries.