Charlotte doesn’t have enough housing for wave of Afghans

Charlotte doesn’t have enough housing for wave of Afghans

Afghan refugee girls watch a soccer game from a distance near the Village at the Ft. McCoy U.S. Army base in Ft. McCoy, Wisc., in September: Photo: Barbara Davidson/Pool Photo via AP, File

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Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte has considered itself in “disaster relief mode” since September as it tries to resettle Afghan refugees here.

The organization, with just a handful of staff, has resettled 190 people in two months, with about 15 more on the way before year’s end.

  • For perspective, in a typical year, they’d welcome 350-400 in 12 months, CCDOC regional director Sandy Buck told me on Friday.
  • On Thanksgiving week, Buck says, the organization took in 50 people.

Why it matters: The work of resettling the thousands of Afghans forced to leave their country after the U.S.’s messy withdraw has fallen on a small number of people and organizations. And they’ve all had their timelines sped up.

Meanwhile, support from the Charlotte community has been hit or miss: When Buck’s team held a meeting here for potential volunteers, only one person showed up; when they did the same in Asheville, 28 to 30 people were there.

    The state of play: Two organizations are leading the efforts here: CCDOC agreed to take 200 and Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency signed up for 100.

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    • The original timeline was four to six months; nearly all of the refugees have arrived within the first two.
    • The rush has made it difficult to find affordable apartments for them: CCDOC  tries to find places with rents below $1,000 a month. In Charlotte, you may have heard, those are hard to come by: CCDOC has about 88 people in hotels as of Friday.

      This wave of resettlements is unlike any other Buck’s seen in her decade with CCDOC.

      Typically, Buck says, when people arrive they already have social security cards and social services numbers for benefits.

      • But during this evacuation, all of the documents went to the International Organization for Migration in D.C., to be disbursed to the local groups.
      • Naturally, with tens of thousands of documents arriving at once, there’ve been delays.

      “We have some people who’ve been here since October who don’t have a social security card,” Buck told me. “While we (CCDOC) know what we’re doing and know how to do this — we’ve been resettling for 40 years — this is different. Many of our arrivals want to get jobs, but hey can’t go to work because they don’t have the documents.”

      The big picture: Overall, the 300 Afghans moving to the Charlotte area represent about a quarter of the 1,200 or so Afghan refugees being assigned to North Carolina.

      • All have their own stories: Some are former interpreters who assisted in the U.S. military’s 20-year efforts there, and if they don’t leave their families would be in jeopardy of being killed by the Taliban.
      • “We’re serving humans, souls who have experienced this trauma,” Buck says. “They were evacuated and sent to a military base, they don’t know anyone here. It’s hard to wrap my head around.”

      The bottom line: Charlotte, as the largest metro in the Carolinas, could be doing more to help.

      CCDOC and CCRC need everything from low-cost housing to bedsheets.

      Samuel Hatcher, for instance, is a landlord who’s offered a rental property at below-market rate for a family. They could also use:

      • New sheets, unopened (twin bed sheets are priority)
      • Pillows
      • Car seats
      • Funding: CCDOC has a $56,000 hotel bill to pay, and she doesn’t want to dip into the refugees’ stipend to do that.
      • Gift cards for groceries at places like Food Lion or Walmart.

        Contact the CCDOC volunteer coordinator, or open CRRA’s web page and go to “Get Involved.”

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