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Finding affordable housing is a struggle for Afghans arriving in the US ahead of winter, advocates say

Afghan family US
Posted at 8:49 AM, Dec 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 13:23:45-05

Housing, or the lack of it, is a problem many communities face year-round, but winter is when there is more of a focus on the issue as the temperatures drop. Finding housing is proving to be a challenge for many Afghan families now in the United States who fled their home country this year as the Taliban took over, and advocates worry not enough will be done to make sure they aren't left out in the cold.

Right now, 25,000 Afghan refugees are just a couple of months into starting new lives in the United States since fleeing their home country as the Taliban took over.

The U.S. government says about 45,000 Afghans are still waiting at U.S. military bases, waiting to join communities nationwide.

While on the surface, life in the United States is one that should offer easier access to opportunity, but advocates say starting over isn't easy, especially for those who had to leave everything behind in search of safety.

“After I leave Afghanistan, two or three days later there was I heard from my neighbors there were two Taliban that came on a motorbike and they were asking for me," Hamid said.

He is a former Afghan interpreter who worked with the U.S. military for two years--a job that made him a target of the Taliban.

“If had stayed there I would be killed. I would be killed," he said inside a Charlotte, North Carolina rental home that he, his wife, and two sons are living in.

In August, this family escaped chaos at the airport in Kabul.

“We pushed ourselves into the crowd. There was so much shooting around us," Hamid said. "It was a scary scene. We pushed ourselves into the crowd and finally we get into the gate. We approach the U.S. Marines. One of them, God bless him, he took us inside.”

What it took to get here is worthy of the front page. A picture of the family's arrival in Charlotte graced the front page of the local paper.

“Tears of joy, you know?” Hamid said.

What it can take to start a new life is a different story.

Zia Ghafoori went through it seven years ago.

Ghafoori worked in battle zones as an interpreter for the U.S. government, helping special forces on the frontlines of the war in Afghanistan.

When he, his then-pregnant wife, and three children came to America, they didn't know where to go and ended up in a homeless shelter.

“We don’t want these people faced with those struggles that we had in the United States when we got here,” Ghafoori recalled.

The tough start to life in America is why Ghafoori started the Interpreting Freedom Foundation. The nonprofit advocates for former Afghan interpreters as they settle in the United States.

“Our government, when I served in Afghanistan, ordered me to make promises to these people that we would not surrender them to a life of death and destitute for them and their families,” said Sean Kilbane.

Kilbane served two tours in Afghanistan. He's now helping dozens of Afghan interpreters and their families find permanent places to live.

“Once they arrive, the challenges immediately begin with housing," Kilbane said.

He says affordable housing is hard to find, plus many of those who he is helping don’t yet have lines of credit or enough money to pay rent.

“I am just trying to find a job and get my driving license," Hamid said. "I want to work, and I want to start a new life here in Charlotte.”

Since our interview, Hamid landed a job and his employer has found him and his family a long-term place to live.

Kilbane says there are far too many other Afghans who worked with the U.S. overseas, falling through the cracks.

"I will not leave a fallen comrade behind to the best of my ability, and if I have to die on this hill, I will die on this hill," Kilbane said.

Hamid’s wife, Shukria, hopes to take English classes at a community college, an opportunity that could be out of reach for a woman in Afghanistan today.

While America is the land of opportunity, it is not of guarantee.

“I will keep continuing to help even single one of those interpreters who took a bullet for both countries," Ghafoori said.

It's why Kilbane and Ghafoori are fighting to make sure those who stood with the U.S. in war, have a better shot at the American Dream.