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South Bay Non-Profit Searching For Homes To Welcome Afghan Refugees

LOS GATOS (KPIX) -- With the emergency evacuation deadline now passed in Afghanistan, communities in the Bay Area and across the country are preparing for the arrival and resettlement of thousands of Afghan refugees. Among their most immediate needs will be housing.

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley expects to resettle roughly 200 refugees by the end of September. Board member Dorene Kastelman is making a public appeal for homeowners to consider offering up spare bedrooms and vacant properties.

"It truly is a type of experience that can allow you to have your own privacy and have your own life, and still have this excellent cultural exchange. And a chance to help someone in a time of need," Kastelman said.

Kastelman and her husband Jim have hosted 8 refugees, one at a time, in their Los Gatos home since 2018. Some stay for a few months, and others up to a year. And all have used the same bedroom that once belonged to one of their own children, with an adjacent downstairs bathroom.

"For some people it was a big transition to be on a bed versus being on the floor," said Kastelman.

The Kastelmans ensure the refugees have their own dedicated space in the kitchen as well, making room in refrigerator and pantry. The guests are welcome to join in nightly family dinners. The refugees often cook native dishes to share with their hosts.

"They did a fantastic job of cooking," said Kastelman.

JFSSV provides case management, job counseling, medical coverage, mental health services, gift cards and debit cards for groceries and other personal expenses, and a bike and VTA bus pass for transportation.

"I didn't think either one of us expected refugees to be as appreciative and as respectful as they were. It was just amazing," said Jim. "They went out of their way to make us comfortable."

The Kastelmans said taking the refugees on day trips around California, teaching them about American life, and bonding over their shared love of nature was "rewarding and enjoyable".

"Once it starts, and once people know the great experience, like the one that we've had, I think it just makes it much easier to take the risk," said Kastelman.

The most recent count of those evacuated from Afghanistan placed the total at 120,000, including 5,400 Americans.

Images from Afghanistan of the chaos at the Kabul airport and nearby American facilities triggered deep feelings of connection and empathy from the Vietnamese community, who fled their own homeland after the end of Vietnam War.

Thi Tran, arrived to the US in 1978, and was resettled in Kentucky. Now a longtime resident of the Bay Area, Tran has recently donated several hundred dollars to refugee relief organizations, and is exploring ways to find housing for the incoming Afghans, including possibly opening up her own home.

"We need to do something, because we know the feeling of leaving our homeland. It's a moral obligation," said Tran.

Tran recalled a social worker named Mr. Manly, who took in several of her family members into his own home.

"How could you forget? And it means so much. It means so much. And that's why I think it's so important that we have to do the same. To welcome, to support the people now, who are just like us years ago," said Tran.

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