Refugee Family Starts a New Journey and the New Year with a Home

Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) Housed an Afghan Family of Five on Christmas Eve 2021 Thanks to Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven

The day before Christmas Eve 2021 was a Thursday. If you saw a group of people carrying furniture in and out of an apartment on Edgewood Avenue that day, you may have wondered, “Who moves right before the holidays? “

The Housing Set-up Team and volunteers led by Bethany Delahunt, Housing and Donations Manager at Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), were setting up a home for an Afghan family of five. The next day, on the morning of Christmas Eve, Sarah Tracy-Wanck, the Housing Acquisitions Coordinator at IRIS, brought the family to their new home here in New Haven.

“Everything moved so quickly,” said Sarah. “We called in everyone to help so that we could get it done.”

Sarah’s job is to find homes for refugees, and she is always on the move. “My day involves a lot of talking to landlords, talking to clients, looking at different apartments, showing different clients around, working a lot with translation, assessing the safety of an apartment site, and coordinating with Bethany who manages the apartment set-up and occasionally coordinates move-in,” Sarah said.

IRIS welcomed a family from Afghanistan in mid-October. Due to the hardship of finding a proper home to rent, they lived in a hotel for a while before staying in a room at a church near the New Haven Green.

In late November, Sarah received a call from Leslie Radcliffe, President of the Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven (NHS) Board of Directors. Leslie had just rented a one-bedroom apartment to a refugee couple, and Sarah was her contact at IRIS. She introduced Sarah to Bridgette Russell, Managing Director of the New Haven HomeOwnership Center. NHS had a property on Edgewood Avenue waiting for tenants and Leslie thought it might be the perfect home for a family Sarah was working with. That’s how NHS and IRIS started working together to make sure the family had a home before the new year.

“There were lots of other people participating in the process, and everyone at NHS really rocked to make it possible,” Sarah recalled. “I remember Bridgette was making copies of keys during the NHS holiday party. Michael even met me on Thursday evening to solve some issues so that I could get the family settled.”

“Working with IRIS was a great experience and an excellent example of how partnerships can positively impact the accessibility of safe, affordable housing.” Michael Haynes, NHS Director of Real Estate Development, said. “IRIS was extremely efficient and clear on what they needed from us.  They were also very accommodating to our constraints and worked with us to ensure a seamless move-in process for the tenants.  The synergy and progressive teamwork between IRIS and NHS of New Haven enabled us to successfully provide affordable housing to a family just in time for the holidays.”

Bridgette also enjoyed working with the professional team at IRIS. “They orchestrated the whole package deal. It was a seamless operation.”

Supporting basic needs like housing is only a small part of IRIS’s services. They also provide health and wellness support, employment assistance, connection to government services, additional education, immigration legal services and so much more to help refugees overcome the difficulties of becoming new members of communities. IRIS believes that as great as refugees’ initial needs are, their potential to enrich the community is even greater.

James Paley, Executive Director of NHS, welcomed the family and expressed his appreciation of IRIS’s dedication to the community. “I personally, and we, as an organization, strongly support what IRIS is doing. We value the fact that New Haven is a welcoming community for refugees, whether they are escaping from political persecution, seeking religious freedom, or motivated by a variety of other reasons that people seek asylum in this country. And we were very pleased to be a part of that process.”

About IRIS: IRIS empowers refugees and immigrants to become self-sufficient and integrated into their new communities. At the same time, newcomers enrich our communities, making this a better place for all of us.

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