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The Resettlement Challenge: Finding Housing for Afghan Refugees Has Been Hard for International Center | tidings

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Although the process of relocating Afghan refugees to long-term housing in Owensboro has been challenging, it has been one that the International Center is determined to look at and do properly, according to volunteer housing coordinator Diane Ford.

Ford said she began working with the international center in September, shortly before the refugees arrived in October.

Initially, she was only helping with donations, but ended up working to help provide shelter as refugees arrived.

She said it was an achievement the center was initially thought to have prepared as it was expected to host around 100 refugees.

However, the center received almost double its initial expectations.

Weeks before their arrival, we really thought we would put them all in apartments, she said.

One of the first families to arrive, she said, however, was a family of nine.

With the lack of quality and affordable housing in general, along with some reluctance from local owners, finding a home for nine people, she said, was troubling.

That special family, she said, ended up settling in a wooden hut outside the city limits.

My husband ended up being forced to climb a ladder to the second floor window and go through, with suit and tie, to fix that house and move them, because we did not have the right key for the front door, she said. At the time, I thought, OK, we got them here and when they arrive, I will find places like this; everything would work out, and then they started arriving like 25 or 30 a day.

As more refugees began to arrive in larger quantities, Ford said it became much harder to accommodate them and there were some reactions from local landlords who did not feel comfortable renting to individuals who did not have a credit history. in the United States. Security card, or a steady job.

Even with housing, she said there were other checkpoints.

We had no way of putting them on. Even if we had dwellings, we had no manpower to erect that dwelling; we had no donations, we had no furniture, no bed, she said. It was simply an impossible achievement, really.

At that point, Ford said, the center decided that accommodating refugees in a hotel might be the best option and eventually was able to work with Comfort Suites in Owensboro.

However, the hotel, at the time, and many others nearby, were full of guests in town for a big event, so the hotel’s first guests had to stay in Henderson before finally being transported to Owensboro as the rooms to be made available.

At one point, Ford said there were 170 refugees at the Comfort Suites hotel. Since then, that number has dwindled as more housing opportunities have become available.

Although hotel stays have been challenging in themselves as well as costly, Ford said it has also been a blessing in disguise.

The biggest silver line, in my opinion, is the sense of community we have created. They are really connected to each other, they have created really deep and meaningful friendships and I know I have with each of them, she said. The staff there, too, was like a big family, and I do not think we would have had that with them, and certainly would not have made it so quickly with each other if they had not all been accommodated in one hotel.

Creating these connections, she said, will help strengthen a more successful long-term integration into the community for refugees.

I can not say enough good things about Comfort Suites, she said.

Accommodation in hotels, she said, has been largely possible with donations from local churches.

Ford said the International Center is slowly but surely working to get refugees out of the hotel and into longer-term accommodation.

In recent weeks, she said the process has moved faster than in the last three months, in part thanks to some persistence with local tenants.

But they were also discovering other obstacles such as a high rental market in the country and across the country.

There is simply a lack of affordable and quality housing, I think, and it’s not just in Owensboro; is a nationwide crisis of affordable housing, she said. COVID did not help this at all with delays in building materials, so even if there were developers planning to build more affordable housing, all of this has stalled and been delayed due to COVID.

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And to add to this challenge, she said, the center did not receive them gradually, Afghan refugees came quickly and without much notice to anyone involved.

It was an urgent evacuation of 160,000 plus people who never expected to leave their country, where normally, a refugee is applying to leave their country and it is a multi-year process, she said. For them, it was a last-minute decision, in a matter of seconds, something they had no plans to do, but something they were forced to do, and in most cases, to save their lives and the lives of their families. , so this is different.

Ford said many refugees have large families they are bringing with them, making housing an even bigger challenge.

For many tenants, she said, there have been misunderstandings about certain regulations when it comes to housing.

They have every right to have concerns; that’s their job, they want to comply and follow the regulations, she said.

However, she said there was a particular concern that arose regularly, as to whether tenants were allowed to rent to families that would require more than two individuals to be accommodated per room, which Ford said is not an adjustment if is not considered a unit. Section 8 or subsidized dwelling.

Ford said the International Center sought legal advice on housing regulations, and board member Susan Montalvo-Gesser was able to draft a letter to local owners asking them to make exceptions regarding history checks, mentioned the rigorous verification they underwent on refugees during their stay at military bases prior to their arrival.

Furthermore, letter declarations, background checks and social security numbers are not legally required for rent.

These may be a company’s internal policies, which are designed, in theory, to protect a property owner’s investment, but are not legal requirements. Where other means are available to reduce risk to the landowner, such as alternatives to background checks; these other tools should be used to reduce the possibility of discrimination against the FHA and to uphold the law, the letter said. However, Afghans have had broader background checks than could be provided by standard background checks made by Kentucky owners.

The background checks, she said, were conducted on behalf of Afghan refugees by the Department of Homeland Security and Defense, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and additional Community Intelligence (IC) partners. .

Since sending the letter, Ford said there has been a slight relocation and refugees have been relocated to long-term flats faster in recent weeks.

It’s still compelling, but I think people are finally meeting them and coming around, she said. I think people are finally starting to see what I have seen all along how wonderful and incredible these people really are, so that makes it a little easier.

Ford said the International Center is also setting up a refugee support network, and many tenants have been offered to pay rent for three months in advance from refugee resettlement funds.

There are also funds created to pay the rest of the rent, she said, if, for some reason, someone has to break their rent, if they have to relocate to be with family members, or some other reason.

However, it is a rather unusual circumstance when this happens, she said.

The statistics for refugees are really impressive. Ninety-eight% of them have removed all assistance within six months and have jobs and it is very rare for someone not to pay their rent or break their rent, she said. What they were saying is, make an exception for these people who sacrificed so much to help our governments, our army, otherwise they have no chance.

She said the needle has started to move to pick up refugees in apartments and outside the hotel.

The next big challenge, Ford said, is employment. However, even this has begun to unite.

We are really trying to find them a job that suits their skill groups, she said. Most of them were making a very good living there with professional life, and were also trying to give them a sense of it here.

Many Afghan refugees, she said, have bachelor’s and even master’s degrees, so the challenge there is simply creating them with companies and jobs that fit their skills in the community.

Ford said there have already been job fairs organized at the hotel, however, and many refugees have already received job offers.

While the refugee resettlement process is still ongoing, Ford said it is moving forward and will continue with community support.

Everyone involved in the settlement process, she said, has been determined to do it right along the way and provide refugees and families with everything they need, whether housing, shelter, employment, medical appointments or anything else. .

They are another group of refugees, and therefore, the process had to change and it had to be different to accommodate them and so we have to have a unique approach to this relocation, and I think we did that. . We made some mistakes along the way, but we learned, she said. They were determined to do it right. They deserve us to do it right.

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