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Seattle resettlement agencies feel burnout, push ahead to help in Ukrainian refugee crisis

One local resettlement agency is calling for volunteers to open their homes and host refugees while they await permanent housing placement.

SEATTLE — The latest data from the United Nations estimates more than 4 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine because of the Russian invasion.

It's been nearly two weeks since president Biden's recent commitment to welcoming 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the U.S., and while the announcement did mention his administration is working to expand and develop new programs, Seattle organizations aren't waiting. 

World Relief Seattle Executive Director Medard Ngueita said he and his staff are already doing what they can to prepare, taking lessons learned from the influx of Afghan refugees coming into Washington last fall. 

The agency has doubled its staff and continues to grow, focusing on hiring more caseworkers, English teachers and employment and housing specialists. 

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"In our area in particular, there is always a concern, especially when it comes to housing, affordable housing," said Ngueita. 

The resettlement agency even opened an office in Whatcom County to help expand efforts, but even that takes resources and groundwork with the existing population. 

"We keep on opening and going further out where we can find affordable housing for families, and where there are resources and services that can help them to thrive in those communities," Ngueita said. 

The agency has already resettled 2,000 refugees since 2014, many in the Mount Vernon area. 

Ngueita said it's one thing for the administration to say the U.S. is going to welcome 100,000 refugees, but it's another for local agencies who actually have to do the work when many are already being pushed to the limit. 

"Very difficult. But in the midst of it, they also feel the privilege and the honor to be part of the very first people that refugees get here and can see and that they can count on. So it has been challenging but also rewarding," he said, adding that he's hopeful the Biden Administration thinks through their plans and provides adequate support and funding to resettlement efforts. 

The agency said some issues they are still struggling with is donation storage space while refugees from around the world wait for permanent housing. 

It's unclear when and how many Ukrainian refugees will arrive in Washington, but Ngueita said they could use help with housing. 

They're asking for donations and for people to become volunteer home hosts.

It takes on average three months to resettle just one family.

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