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Refugee surge is overtaxing state's only shelter offering legal services

University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Residential College

Freedom House Detroit says it's overwhelmed by a surge in refugees arriving in Michigan. The 40-year-old non-profit is the only group in Michigan that provides both shelter and legal services for refugees seeking haven in the state.

Elizabeth Orozco-Vasquez is executive director of Freedom House. She said many people are coming from African, Caribbean, and South American countries.

She said her organization is trying to provide beds for as many as possible, converting a former assembly room into a sleeping area.

"Our hallways are lined with cots," Orozco-Vasquez said. "We've had to put people up in hotels, we've moved people to other shelters. It's difficult to say no, especially as you're seeing people arrive who have not eaten in days, or have children in tow."

Orozco-Vasquez said many people who arrive don't have winter coats, let alone clothing that's appropriate for Michigan's increasingly frigid temperatures.

She said it's not clear the surge in refugees is temporary, so her group is in talks with other community groups as well as the state about either expanding Freedom House, or establishing other shelters for refugees.

Freedom House is focusing right now on increasing its monetary support from the groups and individuals, in part to serve a greater population — and in part because there's no room now in the facility to store donated items.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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