As Austinites continue to grapple with the fallout from the July 2 flooding, local churches and community organizations tried to step in to help – but the community’s growing Hispanic population may be getting left behind.

During a July 18 community meeting organized by the Westside Health Authority’s Good Neighbors Campaign, Maricela Delgado, who has lived in Austin for the past five years, asked whether the organization was doing anything to reach out to Spanish-speaking residents. She pointed to several issues – many of these residents speak little to no English, so they struggle to navigate the city’s 311 service calls systems and other resources. Some of them are also undocumented and are thus reluctant to reach out to any government service.

In a follow-up interview with Austin Weekly News, she also said many support systems that exist are geared toward the more established Black population. During the meeting, WHA staff acknowledged the lack of Spanish-speakers is an issue – but they were determined to do their best to help Latino Austinites.

According to the U.S. Census, Austin’s Hispanic population more than doubled between 2010 and 2020, going from 8.85% of the community area’s population to 19.25% of the population. Over the years, various sources told Austin Weekly News that the shift has to do with gentrification in traditionally Mexican and Puerto Rican communities such as Logan Square, Pilsen and Humboldt Park. Delgado echoed those accounts, while also mentioning that some come from Little Village.

She said when she and her family moved to the central Austin area near Levin Park, they were one of the first two Hispanic families on the block. Since then, the number has grown to at least 20.

Delgado said that, while they experienced some basement flooding in the past, it was nothing like the July 2 floods.

“I lost a lot of things – washer, dryer, furnace, water tank,” she said. “I lost a lot of irreplaceable items as far as photos, awards [my daughter won] and stuff, quinceanera items.”

Delgado said that as someone who grew up in an immigrant family trying to get by, she wanted to see what she could do to help her neighbors.

“I always go above and beyond, to help them,” she said. “Whatever I can do, I always try to advocate for people, it doesn’t matter if they’re Latinos or not, whatever I can do to help people in those situations.”

While getting the word out about available resources, or even helping remove damaged furniture, was something all her neighbors could benefit from, Delgado said Hispanic residents face unique challenges.

She gave an example of one neighbor who knew of assistance available in Cicero and Berwyn, which have large Hispanic populations, but had no idea about where she could turn in Chicago.

“She didn’t know how to download the [311] app, she didn’t know how to go and answer the questions [on the claim form],” Delgado said. “I mean, I’m very well spoken, and it was for me, it was difficult answering those questions, because I didn’t know what some of those things meant.”

That same neighbor struggled with the language barrier and was undocumented. Delgado said she helped her with reporting the loss and assured her that her immigration status wouldn’t affect her ability to get city aid.

“[My neighbor] started crying to me,” Delgado said. “She lost so much. She was barely making the ends meet, and now with the flooding, it was a devastating loss.”

She said she and her family helped seven families in the area that faced similar issues, but Delgado suspected there were more people who could use that kind of help.

“I also know that there are probably more people that are struggling and are not given this information,” she said.

Delgado said one issue facing Austin’s Hispanic community is that they fall outside the support network of faith leaders and community organizations that grew over the decades. Rev. Ira Acree, of Greater St. John Holiness Baptist Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave., previously told Austin Weekly News that members of his congregation volunteered to remove water-damaged furniture. Delgado said she was personally aware of area churches holding meetings to help connect residents to resources, but she felt that “they don’t cater to Hispanic residents.”

“I don’t think there’s really a hub or an organization in Austin for Latinos at the moment,” she said.

During the July 18 meeting, Westside Health Authority officials urged residents to share their contact information so that they can get help from Good Neighbor Campaign volunteers or other organizations. Delgado asked about the availability of Spanish language materials, and whether there has been any kind of outreach to Hispanic residents.

“I just want to know what we as the community in Austin are doing about all the stuff that’s getting lost in translation,” she said.

Kyler Winfrey, who helps handle WHA’s community outreach, responded that while the Good Neighbor Campaign itself doesn’t have anyone who is bilingual, his employer was still interested in helping the residents the best they could.

“We do have some people in the company that may be able to assist them,” he said. “I would have them call [WHA office number] anyway, or email, the best way they can, so we try to get a better system going.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...