GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The first of nearly 400 Afghan refugees have started arriving in West Michigan.
Samaritas and Bethany Christian Services are the serving as the primary resettlement agencies for the area. Kent County’s Gateways for Growth Welcome Plan Steering Committee is supporting their work, calling on the community to provide opportunities and resources for the residents.
“The message for West Michigan is that we’ve done this before during the Vietnam (War) era and since then, we’ve always been a welcoming community for refugees,” Samaritas Executive Director of Affordable Living Development Joel Lautenbach said. “Every year, we do welcome refugees into our community. …But in this circumstance, we do have a little bit of a bigger lift for our community to make together.”
The most immediate need is housing. The committee creating a survey to gauge options the community can offer, especially anyone with rental properties available.
“Sometimes, there are people that have a rental property that they’d be willing to set aside for this special purpose,” Lautenbach said. “Maybe for six to 12 months because it’s a unique situation.”
The group is also seeking help securing financial resources, mental health practitioners and other volunteers.
“As a community, this is our time to put into action what we said we were going to do,” said Gateways for Growth Committee member Omar Cuevas, referring to the county’s Welcome Plan, which launched last year.
Cuevas said this is an opportunity to help invest in the county’s future.
“I say invest because later on, these are going to be individuals that are going to be filling classrooms, they’re going to be filling jobs that are currently open,” Cuevas said. “We are hiring in this state and we are struggling to attract people to fill in jobs.”