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Agencies want to resettle Afghans in Greensboro. They just need a place to go.
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Agencies want to resettle Afghans in Greensboro. They just need a place to go.

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GREENSBORO — When the late Craig Thomas was lightheartedly asked one Christmas about the one thing needed most at Mary’s House, the executive director said cookware.

Thomas could have said money to expand the treatment program for recovering female addicts. Or she could have said cars so participants could get to school or work.

And each would have been true.

But Thomas responded with a spirited reply.

“One of our less experienced cooks burned up our best frying pan!” Thomas said at the time. “The mothers learn to cook here so they can properly feed their families.”

Mary’s House, on a tree-lined street in the shadow of downtown, is now empty as the award-winning nonprofit lost its funding and ponders its future — and is the kind of properties being eyed as temporary housing for Afghan refugees.

“I don’t want the agency to completely fizzle out, and I would like for a way for us to regain our footing,” said accountant Michael Jackson, the board chairman, who was approached this past weekend about the possibility. “I don’t think Craig would be against it because it would be one way to help the community.”

Across the Triad, refugee and immigrant resettlement agencies have already been dealing with a lack of affordable housing — a problem also affecting residents — with hundreds of Afghan families expected in the weeks and months to come. That’s forced organizations such as North Carolina African Services Coalition, Church World Service and World Relief Triad to look at creative ways to provide homes — even if they would be temporary.

“We do have folks that are willing to work with us, but the inventory that’s available is very low,” said Rob Cassell, the executive director of World Relief Triad, which has offices in High Point and Winston-Salem.

Agencies in the greater Greensboro area and their supporters are putting out feelers for empty spaces such as Mary’s House that have been homes to multiple families at once.

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“We’re having a lot of conversations with a lot of people,” said Megan Shepard of Church World Service Greensboro.

Some Greensboro families have offered to host refugees in their own homes.

“That’s an incredibly generous offer that people are making,” Shepard said.

And that could be a possibility, Shepard added, but ideally resettlement agencies would like to help Afghan families start new lives in more permanent housing.

Temporary housing helps the agencies buy time, but it means refugees having to make yet another move.

“For folks who have been displaced, it doesn’t help with the feeling of being settled,” Cassell said.

World Relief Triad is looking for spaces in Winston-Salem because there is a larger Afghan community there.

“Whenever we are looking for housing we have a checklist,” Cassell explained. “When we look for housing, we look for upkeep of a home that we would be comfortable putting friends in.”

Jackson of Mary’s House has been researching how hosting Afghan refugees might affect the agency’s license as a residential treatment facility. The space for eight families — each bedroom is assigned to a family with everyone sharing common spaces — was one of the few of its kind in the country because it allowed women to bring their children with them to treatment.

But the organization stopped accepting new clients after losing funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — which provided the majority of its budget — because of that agency’s commitment to putting people into more permanent housing. The grants the agency could cobble together weren’t enough to sustain the program.

“We’ll see how this works out,” Jackson said.

Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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