A CHURCH in Massachusetts has moved a family of Afghans into the basement of its building as resettlement agencies are overwhelmed by the number of evacuee families needing homes.
The family of nine, including seven children, aged from four to 16, have moved in to the basement of St Paul’s, Newburyport, north of Boston, after the church converted basement meeting-space and a classroom into living accommodation.
The United States has taken in about 50,000 Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban takeover in August (News, 20 August). Most are still in temporary accommodation, on military bases or in hotels.
St Paul’s is working with the International Institute of New England, an agency working with the government to re-house Afghan families. It is racing to re-house 425 families before February.
Larger families are particularly difficult to re-house owing to a shortage of accommodation; many have been living on military bases for months.
The accommodation at St Paul’s is only for temporary use, and the church plans to offer a home to a second Afghan family as well, the Rector, the Revd Jarred Mercer, said.
He said that the needs of the families looking for homes were “pretty extreme”, and that the church was setting up a working group of people who would help children to settle in to schools, teach English, and help the family with paperwork and finding employment. The church is also putting the family in touch with Muslims in the area for spiritual support, as there is no mosque in Newburyport.
The congregation and the city were wholeheartedly backing the scheme, Mr Mercer said. An appeal to the city for donations for beds and food for the family was overwhelmed with donations in hours.
“There is a lot of goodwill around the move, the wider community are really behind it. We wanted to draw in the wider community for the good of the families arriving, and for the good of our city and our connection with our city. It has given people an opportunity to serve.
“This is the practice of Advent: as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, we are preparing literally for the coming of Christ in these people.
“The Church is called to welcome the stranger. This isn’t some optional ministry, but an absolute moral imperative. Future generations will look back at how we did or didn’t respond to this.”
He urged all Christians to ask themselves how they could respond to refugees, as the displacement of people through conflict and climate change grew.
Episcopal churches across the United States are responding to the resettlement of Afghan evacuees. Volunteers are welcoming arrivals at the airport and providing supplies. St Mark’s, Casper, in Wymoning, is also looking at sponsoring an Afghan family (News, 22 October). The church is stepping in because Wyoming is the only state in the US not to have an official resettlement programme, after the Governor said that he had “no interest” in it.