LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Refugee settlement programs across the country have seen a decrease in their numbers in the wake of the Trump administration and COVID-19 pandemic.
Those numbers are climbing back up slowly, but now programs here in Michigan say they are in need of more housing. Due to the pandemic last year, Lansing non-profit St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) could only bring in 53 refugees here to mid-Michigan.
Compare that to 830 the year before.
Even though that number is slowly going back up, there’s a shortage of housing and if they don’t find homes soon, St. Vincent may have to turn refugees away.
STVCC resettled more than 500 refugees each year until 2017 when that number started to fall.
“It’s been a very successful program and refugees contributed a lot to this community. You see small businesses, you see kids in schools, you see great neighborhoods,” said Judi Harris, Director of Refugee Services, at STVCC.
“So, it was mostly political over the last 4 years. The policies in the national administration for refugees changed and refugee resettlement programs all around the country we’re seeing decreases.”
Now that restrictions are lifting around the globe, Harris says the program is seeing a steady increase.
“We expect quite a few more in a couple of months as things start to rebuild overseas as well, and as the covid restrictions start to ease up overseas. So we do expect to receive about 115 this year, and 400 next year.”
The current problem at hand is finding housing for the refugees.
“A lot of the property owners that we used to work with have decided to sell their properties now instead of continuing to rent. So the availability has gone down and the prices have gone up,” said Harris.
They’re working alongside several other groups to find a solution.
“It is a collective effort, no one can solve this alone, but again it’s an issue beyond our newcomer population. Housing is critical and we need more affordable and safe housing for everyone,” said Erika Brown-Binion, Executive Director of Refugee Development Center. “In a mid-west community where sometimes, we can have a declining population, people moving out we see a vibrancy because we are a resettlement city and we welcome folks to come here and start a new life.”
If housing is not found for refugees, STVCC will have to reduce its numbers.
“We would have to reduce our numbers, and tell Washington that we can’t take as many, which would be tragic because this is such a great place for refugees to come and to live and I would hate to see that happen,” says Harris.