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Nonprofits prepare for 400 Afghan refugees resettling in Jacksonville

Lutheran Social Services holds orientation classes for refugees new to Jacksonville.
Lutheran Social Services
Lutheran Social Services holds orientation classes for refugees new to Jacksonville.

Jacksonville nonprofits are in the process of resettling at least 400 Afghan refugees in Northeast Florida.

The efforts are being partially funded by two $500,000 grants from the Barr Weaver family, the first owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars, to Jacksonville's two main resettlement nonprofits, Lutheran social Services and Catholic Charities.

Since October, more than 150 Afghan refugees have moved to Jacksonville, according to the refugee services manager at Lutheran Social Services, Laura Cook. She said the new grant money will go toward transportation, staffing and a direct assistance fund for the new Jacksonville residents.

"We have lots of transporting to do, whether that's to Social Security appointments, health appointments, picking families up from the airport, even setting up apartments," Cook said.

But the biggest need, Cook said, is a familiar refrain: affordable housing.

"We are really struggling with the housing, because the housing market is so hot right now, there's not a lot of open apartments," Cook said.

She added that landlords have been hesitant to rent to new refugees who don't have employment or income history in the U.S. Some new residents have had to wait up to two months to get employment authorization from the federal government.

The U.S. is resettling about 70,000 Afghans, some as refugees and some with special immigrant visas. According to the Department of Homeland Security as of last month, more than 40,000 people were still waiting at six U.S. military bases for local resettlement agencies to accept them.

Data obtained by the Associated Press shows Florida is accepting fewer refugees than the country's other large states. Florida has committed to resettling 1,050 Afghan evacuees, less than a fifth of the number California has committed to accept.

Lutheran Social Services has told the State Department they had the capacity to resettle 200 evacuees, but hopes to expand their capacity with the latest grant funds from the Weaver family.

As more refugees move to Jacksonville, Lutheran Social Services is seeking volunteers to help with transportation, apartment setup and language interpretation. You can also donate items for new apartments.

More information is available at Lutheran Social Services website, Catholic Charities and the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.