AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dozens of refugee families in Austin are facing eviction notices following issues with Refugee Services of Texas (RST), the state’s largest refugee resettlement agency, according to an Austin church that is providing help to families.
Alliance Samuragwa oversees the refugee ministry at Gateway Church. He said in the past week, 25 refugee families have reached out to the church for help, with some saying RST had not been paying their first three months of rent like they promised, and now were facing eviction.
One multi-generational family at the church, who previously lived in a refugee camp in Rwanda for 20 years, said they arrived in the United States in late January. The family said RST picked them up from the airport and helped them find a place to live, with the promise the agency would pay for the first three months while family members looked for a job.
But that family said after one month, it received an eviction notice from the apartment. When the family went to RST’s Austin office for help, the family claims the agency said it did not have them in their system.
“They feel like no one is there for them. Literally, they fell like they are lonely,” Samuragwa explained.
What happened to RST?
Last week, RST leadership announced it was laying off 45% of its staff and closing two offices in Houston and Fort Worth after the agency said it a budget crisis. The agency said it had to help more refugees in the past 18 months than it had budgeted for.
RST said it would not be servicing any new refugee arrivals for 120 days as it tried to raise $4 million by June 1. The agency said in a news release that there was a possibility it could furlough more employees, but said it would continue to serve refugees who are currently living here.
This week, the Austin office was locked with no sign of anyone working inside. A spokesperson for the agency said, “Refugee Services of Texas is aware of the concerns from the Austin community and is working diligently to address them.”
The spokesperson would not confirm if all offices statewide were closed.
Gateway church trying to fill the gaps
Gateway church leadership said it has worked with RST for about 10 years to fill in the gaps where it was needed. Austin Gillis, the mobilization pastor for the church, said it has served about 200 families in the past 18 months in different capacities. Gillis said the church is spreading itself after RST’s issues.
“We can’t fill all the gaps as much as we want to. We’re resource bound and we try to steward those resources as best as possible,” Gillis explained.
Samuragwa is from Burundi and came to the United States in 2014 as an asylum seeker with no knowledge of the English language. He said after two years, he gained asylee status and was able to get help from RST. He said the agency helped him back then, but he is concerned with what he is seeing today.
“Just to come in the country hoping they were going to be served and be welcomed, and now they are abandoned and it’s really really hard,” Samuragwa said about the troubles refugee families face.
Gillis said they are getting some help from World Relief, an international organization that provides assistance to refugees, but he still wants to know what happened with RST.
“I would thank them for what they’ve done and I would hope that they just fulfill their commitments, and in the meantime we’re going to continue to serve,” Gillis explained.
How you can help
The church is looking for any and all donations.
If you would like to provide any time or resources, you can visit its website to learn more about what the church does.