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Agency struggles to find housing for Afghan evacuees coming to New Hampshire

Afghan Refugees Religious Response
Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP
FR171825 AP
In this Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal to board a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va. U.S. religious groups of many faiths are gearing up to assist the thousands of incoming refugees.

The agency responsible for coordinating the arrival of Afghan evacuees to New Hampshire is struggling to find places for them to live just as they are set to arrive in the Concord area.

Crissie Ferrara, the program manager for services for New Americans at Ascentria Care Alliance, said a mother with five daughters will be moving soon, and likely staying with another family. Two individual men will also likely be arriving in Concord soon. Ferrara’s organization is responsible for finding housing for refugees and humanitarian evacuees, like the ones coming from Afghanistan.

Ferrara said that Ascentria has received an outpouring of support from people willing to share rooms in their homes with those coming from Afghanistan. Ideally, new families and individuals would be able to have the autonomy and independence of renting their own private housing, located near services in Concord.

The organization’s online form for landlords or property owners who want to provide housing to Afghan arrivals in New Hampshire and Massachusetts explains that independent affordable apartment housing options will be prioritized over people offering to host people in their homes.

Ferrara said Ascentria has suggested that single men without family in the United States be sent to New Hampshire first, including men who may have made friends with another individual during the eviction process.

“These are men who have family, who were separated from their families,” she said. She said some of those men worked for either Afghan military or police, the U.S military or a U.S. embassy but lack a special immigrant visa.

“They were more apt to want to leave because they had certain fears that they should get out of there based on who they worked with in the past,” Ferrara said.

In the process of standard refugee resettlement, Ascentria secures an “assurance” for each refugee, meaning as the local agency, it confirms that it is prepared and willing to accept each individual before firm travel plans are made. Staff from Ascentria calls any nearby family or friends to ensure that the new arrival will have community support as they adjust.

“It’s usually a really great phone call. They get very excited that so-and-so is making the next step in getting towards the United States,” Ferrara said.

The new arrivals from Afghanistan who lack a visa have been granted humanitarian parole by the United States Department of Homeland Security, rather than status as refugees. This has allowed Afghan nationals to enter the United States this summer without a visa.

Because there’s not a large Afghan community in New Hampshire, few Afghan newcomers will be able to enter the state with a social network in place.

The lack of an existing Afghan community creates some challenges for groups like Overcomers Refugee Services, which aids new residents to get resettled, in part by helping them apply for jobs and benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.

Executive Director Clement Kigugu said that Overcomers has not welcomed Afghan arrivals before, and none of the organization’s multilingual staff speaks Pashto or Dari. “We haven’t been able to hire caseworkers because we don’t have money yet to cover the costs,” Kigugu said.

Kigugu said the rental housing crunch in New Hampshire has also impacted the refugees that Overcomers assists now. He said he has seen the sudden sale of an apartment building sparked a frantic search for new housing.

“The emergency rental assistance has really been helping,” Kigugu said. Overcomers has received grants from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to distribute emergency rental aid, which can help people put down a deposit or bridge a gap in rental payments.

To prepare for the Afghan arrivals, Overcomers has recruited volunteers to help transport people to appointments and found people willing to “adopt” families, helping them with all the challenges involved in getting settled in a new place, including enrolling kids in school or getting to the store. A new room has been set up for volunteers to take shifts being present in person to help anyone who needs it.

There are a variety of ways residents can give their time or resources, either by volunteering to support a particular family, signing up to providing transportation or donating clothes or supplies, Kigugu said.

“We really need help in many ways,” he said.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.