Since 2002, Juntos has made it a point to stay in the South Philadelphia area, where most of their predominantly Latino members live.
The immigrants rights organization’s first space was in a basement, which had occasional leaks, but its most recent office space at 6th and Tasker was comfortable and one that the org’s small staff of four had no intention of leaving, said Executive Director Erika Almiron.
But in May, a “contentious” disagreement over the renewing of a lease with the landlord of the building where Juntos was located prompted her and the staff to discuss moving once again.
“It became clear that we weren’t welcome there,” Almiron added.
— Miguel E. Andrade (@MiguelEsAndrade) July 14, 2017
This time, however, Juntos really wasn’t ready for a move budget-wise, especially if the organization was going to remain in South Philly. For Almiron, it wouldn’t make sense for Juntos’ offices to be anywhere else if they were committed to staying “accessible and accountable” to the community.
So, Juntos turned to crowdfunding via a GoFundMe page created in early July to raise $10,000 to help with finding and setting up shop at a suitable location — and they ended up raising the $10,000 in just four days, with money coming from places as far as across the country to those as close as a local taqueria donating $50.
Now, Juntos’ staff, with help from volunteers, has been working for the past few weeks on getting everything moved in and spruced up at its new location on the second floor of 600 Washington Ave., where Almiron said they have a bigger community space and more offices than they’ve ever had before.
“Something that we’re proud of is that people, I think, respect Juntos and knows that Juntos needs to stay around,” Almiron said.
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— Juntos (@Vamos_Juntos_) August 3, 2017
As noted in this blog post by Juntos, and by Almiron herself, gentrification had a part to play in the move needing to happen in the first place, with the post alleging that Juntos was pushed out to make room for a coffee shop.
It brought up the question of the threats small organizations like Juntos faces when they lack the ability to operate because of not owning property. Almiron brought up education reform group Philadelphia Student Union as an example, which its members say was evicted from its office in West Philly back in 2015 but was able to accrue enough funds via an Indiegogo page to find a new home.
Gentrification in general is a “salient issue” for the immigrant community Juntos serves, Almiron said. But as was made evident by how fast Juntos was able to raise the money — thanks in part to that ever-important local financial support — Juntos’ services are very much wanted and needed.
For now, Almiron said she and the staff are just trying to get everything back to normal so that the org can one, resume its open-door services, and two, start some much-needed discussion with community leaders on recent federal decisions surrounding immigration that Juntos hasn’t been able to address because of the timing of the move.
“There’s lots to say about what’s happening at the administration level,” Almiron said.-30-
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