Housing a hurdle for LGBT refugees

San Francisco’s high housing costs are particularly problematic for LGBT refugees resettled to the Bay Area. Most come with little money, few or no local connections, and uncertain job prospects.

They then find themselves competing for pricey apartments in the same pool of applicants as high-paid tech employees or waitlisted for a room at an affordable housing development. Often their first home in America is a short-term rental offered at a discounted rate or free by a volunteer who has agreed to house LGBT refugees as well as asylum seekers.

“Our biggest challenge in helping these people is to find housing for them,” said Amy Weiss, the director of refugee and immigrant services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay. “They come with no employment history and no housing history. San Francisco is hard enough to find housing if you have an income. It is a huge problem for us and for them and to anybody resettling refugees.”

The agency is believed to be the only one in the country that has developed a specific program to work with LGBT refugees. It began four years ago when a number of Iranian LGBT refugees, who had fled to Turkey, needed help resettling in the U.S.

Since then the agency has worked with a number of LGBT refugees, mostly gay men from Africa and the Middle East. In November Junior Mayema arrived from Capetown, South Africa, where he had fled five years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The university student had left Congo’s capital Kinshasa because his pastor mother had vowed to murder him for being gay. He headed for South Africa due to its reputation for having some of the strongest LGBT protections of any nation on the African continent.

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