Permanent housing sought for Afghan families | News

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NEWBURYPORT — With the goal of helping four Afghan evacuee families secure a future in the city, the clergy leaders of three congregations are appealing to the community for assistance in finding long-term housing options.

Afghan evacuees began arriving in the city on Dec. 13 as part of the federal program Operation Allies Welcome.

The families were among the thousands evacuated when the U.S. military pulled out of Afghanistan in August.

It was around then that the Rev. Jarred Mercer, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, heard that the International Institute of New England needed help finding temporary housing for families and offered space at the church on High Street, finding it both a privilege and a moral imperative.

“The situation and needs of Afghan evacuees are unique, as is our moral responsibility to welcome and care for them,” Mercer said in a statement. “These are not people who have come by choice, but who were brought here by the U.S. as their lives were under threat in their home country due to their relationship with and assistance to ours.

“However, even given the particularity of this situation and our moral obligation to these arrivals, unique solutions have not been adequately established to aid their successful resettlement and integration, meaning that without the embrace and support of local communities, their stability and opportunities to flourish here remain precarious,” Mercer continued.

The church welcomed a family of nine, including seven children ranging in age from 6 to 17, in December and a family of 10, including eight children ranging in age from 3 to 19, in January.

Community members quickly reached out to offer bedding, clothing, English language lessons, transportation services and other donations.

The First Religious Society, Unitarian Universalist Church on Pleasant Street also stepped up and welcomed a family of 11, including nine children ranging in age from 3 to 19, to temporary living quarters at the Parish Hall.

About a month or so ago, Central Congregational Church on Titcomb Street opened up its space to a family of three – a set of parents with a young child.

With support from city and school officials, the three congregations have been pooling supplies and resources to help these four families – a total of 33 people – resettle and make a home here in Newburyport.

“We have witnessed the tremendous hospitality shown by Newburyport and beyond to these families,” the Rev. Rebecca Bryan, minister of the First Religious Society, Unitarian Universalist, said in a statement.

“Now, we are asking for your help to ensure that they can remain active members of our community,” Bryan added. “As faith leaders, we believe in the good will of people, and even in miracles.”

The clergy leaders continue to explore options with city officials, social service providers, real estate agents and others in hope of securing permanent housing for these Afghan families, but they also need help from the larger community.

They are seeking ideas, connections and help to identify properties that might be available to rent, foreclosed properties or other options that could be reasonably acquired as possible housing solutions. Federal funding may be available to help underwrite rental costs, they said.

“The community has responded with extraordinary generosity – from doctors and dentists providing care, to 40 volunteer English teachers, to volunteers offering rides and donations of items or money to help meet various needs,” the Rev. Christopher Ney of Central Congregational Church noted in a statement.

“The presence of the Afghan families has already enriched our community and we hope to continue to grow in our relationships with them,” he said.

“Living in repurposed rooms in church buildings is a very temporary solution to their housing security needs, and we hope to be able to support them in making the transition to more stable housing as soon as possible,” Ney added by phone.

Ney and the other clergy leaders know the challenges of the city’s housing market, but they also know “the generosity and creativity of the people of Newburyport,” he said.

Mayor Sean Reardon added his support to the clergy appeal, saying, “Newburyport is a community that always steps up to help those in need. A city of doers that rally around a cause and work together to solve our biggest challenges. The Afghan families are now a part of that community and we will continue to work together to keep them here.”

Anyone with information about possible housing options can contact the Rev. Jarred Mercer at rector@stpaulsnewburyport.org, the Rev. Rebecca Bryan at RevRebecca.Bryan@frsuu.org, or the Rev. Christopher Ney at chris@centralnewburyport.org.

Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

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