For Afghans starting over in the US, housing is the biggest challenge

As thousands of Afghan refugees arrive in Northern Virginia, one local agency is working overtime to help them rebuild their lives in the U.S.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington said the biggest challenge is finding permanent housing for evacuees.

“It’s extremely traumatic,” Jessica Estrada, the director of newcomer services for the organization, said. “Many people are coming with simply a small bag of belongings.”

But some evacuees already have family and friends in the area, thanks to the region’s large Afghan community.

Once Afghan refugees complete resettlement process and receive a special immigrant visa through the State Department, Catholic Charities takes over, guiding them to everything they need to quickly settle.

Estrada said evacuees need everything from jobs to school enrollment for children.

Since July, her agency has settled more than 200 refugees from Afghanistan.

“They really truly are starting from zero. We’re prepared to help a lot more,” Estrada said. “For the children, we make sure we’re providing fun things for them. To the extent possible, we try to make them as comfortable as we can, while their parents are going through this.”

Catholic Charities has received many donations including mattresses, clothes and food.

But, in a tight housing market, permanent housing seems to be the hardest item to secure. Without one, rebuilding life for many evacuees is on hold.

Estrada said several private landlords have offered some housing.

“We’ve got some great support from local hotels. But, the sooner we can get families, especially families with children who are school aged, into homes, then kids can start school,” she said. “We really want to create a home for these individuals, so they can relax after such a traumatic period.”

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Gigi Barnett

Gigi Barnett is an anchor at WTOP. She has worked in the media for more than 20 years. Before joining WTOP, she was an anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, and a staff reporter at The Miami Herald. She’s a Navy wife and mom of three.

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