The Prince George’s County government is finishing a new map that details where issues ranging from sexual harassment complaints to housing problems are occurring.
Updating the map should allow the county’s Human Relations Commission — tasked with dealing with complaints of unlawful discrimination in areas such as employment, law enforcement, education and public accommodations — to better target outreach efforts to areas that might be underserved in representation regarding those issues or are simply unaware of the agency’s service, said D. Michael Lyles, executive director of the commission.
The report, which is due in about 30 days, comes as the agency of 10 people is working to expand its reach in the county. In the last fiscal year, which ended in June, the HRC had an operating budget of about $80,000. In the current fiscal year, its budget was boosted to about $150,000 to help the agency clear a backlog of old cases and to expand its outreach work, Lyles said.
Even with the bump in budget, the HRC has and continues to receive its typical intake of about 26 requests for help each month. Of those cases, about 18 wind up strong enough to move forward with an investigation, Lyles said.
To reach out to underrepresented parts of the county, the agency has revamped its logo and website and has established a newsletter to spread awareness of the agency. Since Lyles took over the agency last year, he or representatives of the agency have met with representatives of the county’s 27 municipalities, he said.
There are still most likely parts of the county that are underserved, Lyles said.
“There is a huge need to deal with the civil-rights complaints of the Spanish-speaking community and of the African-immigrant community,” Lyles said.
In Prince George’s County, Hispanics make up about 15 percent of the county’s population — almost twice the average in Maryland, according to the U.S. Census’ statistics 2011. Why the Spanish-speaking population hasn’t used the agency is unclear, but Jose Villegas — one of the commission’s two bilingual investigators — suspects transportation might be a factor.
Much of the county’s Spanish-speaking population lives in places such as Hyattsville or Langley Park and may rely on buses or public transit for transportation, which could make reaching the Upper Marlboro headquarters of HRC difficult, he said.
“Hopefully, this [outreach effort] gets the word out that we’re ready to do what we’re supposed to do,” Lyles said.