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Afghan families who have been living on U.S. military bases are looking for homes


A majority of the approximately 75,000 Afghans who fled for the United States last fall have now left the military bases where they had been temporarily living. Now they're in the process of finding permanent homes across the U.S. It's not easy, though, for the Afghans, nor for the Americans trying to help them. Colorado Public Radio's Kevin Beaty reports on two families in Denver.

GRETCHEN CHEVERTON: I'm so happy to meet you.

KEVIN BEATY, BYLINE: It's almost midnight in December, and Gretchen Cheverton and her husband have just met a family of strangers who've come to live with them.

CHEVERTON: Are you ready to go home?


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BEATY: This family - a mom, dad and two very young children - fled their home in Afghanistan last August when the Taliban took Kabul.

M: I lose many things in there. I lose my hope. I lose my fortune. I lose - I mean, everything.

BEATY: The dad, who we're calling M to protect his family back home, worked with NATO. The job allowed him to come to the U.S. It also put a target on his back. He's grateful he made it out.

M: Now I'm not worried about my family. I'm not worried about my safety. I was just thinking that maybe I would lose my family as well, but fortunately, I came here.

BEATY: Cheverton's brother was a soldier in Kabul, and he met M online as he worked to get people he knew on evacuation lists. He got M's family on a plane in October, then connected them to Cheverton when they arrived in the U.S.

CHEVERTON: I immediately sent them my address and said, you know, asked please to come to Colorado. And you can come stay with us until your home is ready.

BEATY: Since word got out that Cheverton and her brother helped one family, people still stuck in Afghanistan have besieged them with pleas for help.

CHEVERTON: Thousands, thousands of them. And they were journalists. They're athletes. They're civil rights activists. They're teachers who taught at girls' schools. And these messages are just heart wrenching. Like, I have nightmares about it.

BEATY: Cheverton can't help most of the people who contact her on social media. Only people who work directly with Western militaries are eligible to resettle in the U.S. Everyone else is on their own. And hardly any eligible Afghans actually boarded planes last fall during the chaotic evacuation.

JASON CROW: The story of this family is miraculous in a lot of ways, but the biggest is that they are really the outlier at this point. We do know that the number of eligible Afghans is in the tens of thousands.

BEATY: Colorado Congressman Jason Crow, a Democrat and Afghanistan veteran, has been working to get people out of the country. He sits on armed services and intelligence committees, and he knows many have turned to strangers online for help.

CROW: People are working multiple angles and that should not be the way that it is. There should be a more defined, equitable process, but that has not yet been able to be implemented.

BEATY: A lot of people who did get to the U.S. are still waiting for permanent homes. Linda Foster, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Colorado, works with resettlement agencies to find places for refugees to live.

LINDA FOSTER: The goal is to get them out of those transitional housing situations within 30 days. And can we do that? I don't know.

BEATY: Housing is in especially short supply around Denver. Refugees are now competing with some whose homes burned in recent wildfires and others who lost work during the pandemic. Foster has leads on about 100 affordable units in the Denver metro.

FOSTER: And of all those locations, there's only four vacancies. I worry. That's why - that is the biggest and hardest piece of it.

BEATY: Sipping tea in Gretchen Cheverton's house, M said he's lucky to have a cozy place to search for a home of his own. He'd just taken his son to his first day of school, and then a letter arrived.

M: Oh, my God. This is my Social Security. Thank you. Thank you so much.

BEATY: A Social Security card means he can begin looking for work, save up and someday move his family out of Cheverton's home. But as he and Cheverton know intimately, there are so many more people hoping to leave Afghanistan and do the same. For NPR News, I'm Kevin Beaty in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Beaty