A family of six from Afghanistan will be the first refugees to find a new home in Ithaca as part of a local charity’s effort to move up to 50 refugees from war-torn countries to the area.
Sue Chaffee, director of the Immigrant Services Program at Catholic Charities of Tompkins and Tioga, said the family’s was the first case reviewed by the charity and they seemed like a good fit, especially because the family already has an acquaintance in the Ithaca area.
“We’ve been saying since October that we’re ready for the first family … so we’re really excited,” Chaffee said.
The U.S. Department of State awarded CCTT with a grant late last year providing the charity $2,025 for each refugee they relocate. More than half of that money is for direct assistance to the refugees, such as buying groceries or covering part of their rent; the rest goes to CCTT for administrative costs.
The family of six is currently in Afghanistan and while their exact arrival date has not been set, the charity is hopeful that they will land at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport within a month. In order to protect the family’s privacy, Chaffee declined to describe the family in detail or the relationship between the family and their acquaintance in the Ithaca area.
However, Chaffee said, the charity did interview the acquaintance to see how much the friend could help the family navigate their new home. The local connection, who is eager to aid in the family’s arrival, was a big factor in the charity’s confidence that the family would be happy and successful in the region, Chaffee said.
“We don’t expect the U.S. tie to do everything,” Chaffee said, referring to the Ithaca-area friend. But, she added, “they can help with airport reception, interpretation, help [the family] get to the grocery store — those initial tasks that they’ll need.”
Chaffee said they are hoping to find housing for the Afghan family near The Commons or somewhere with frequent TCAT service to downtown, where social services, jobs and basic needs like food are easily accessible.
Finding affordable housing will likely be the most difficult part in relocating the dozens of refugees the charity is hoping to bring to the area. The charity specifically requested larger families in order to avoid competing with students for single-bedroom apartments, said Soren Klaverkamp, refugee resettlement case manager for CCTT.
“It’s been kind of difficult, but we’re hoping that we can find landowners who are compassionate and are looking to support our mission,” Klaverkamp said. “We’re looking for landlords who are looking to open their doors to a new segment of the population.”
Still, he said, finding a three-bedroom house or apartment along a TCAT route for less than $1,200 is proving challenging, so CCTT staff have been contacting property owners and rental agencies directly, in addition to browsing Craigslist and other sites.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said the only thing stopping Ithaca from being the ideal new home for refugees is the city’s “housing crisis.”
“A lot of communities around the country are excited about the prospect of refugees because they will fill housing that’s vacant,” he said. “That’s not the case here.”
Myrick said that, other than housing, Ithaca is uniquely suited to accommodate refugees, and has been doing so for decades.
“I’m thrilled for this family,” he said. “Removing six people from a warzone is a blessing to be able to do that … and I’m excited for our city that we’re going to continue in what’s now becoming a pretty long tradition of being a sanctuary for people fleeing oppression and violence all over the world.”
Members of the charity will be busy completing online training, preparing services for the family and reviewing additional cases that could be sent their way as they anticipate the family’s arrival.