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Derecho forces refugees into sleeping in demolished Cedar Rapids apartments


August 20th, 2020 by Ric Hanson

(Radio Iowa) Some 200 refugee families have transitioned into temporary housing in Cedar Rapids, leaving behind devastated apartments they were living in and around, even after they were condemned. Residents of the Cedar Terrace Apartments spent days sleeping on the ground, in tents, cars and even inside destroyed units. Kobinali Lwishi said his family rode out the storm on the top floor as the roof was torn off. They survived, but they lost all of their possessions. “The way you see me, that’s the way I am right now. I don’t have nothing. I don’t have anything,” Lwishi says. “Something I have right now is just water, diapers, for the people help me, but in my apartment I didn’t get anything.”

Lwishi says he and his family have moved in with a friend for now, but long-term, he doesn’t know what they’ll do.  “Exactly we don’t have any place to go for now,” Lwishi says. “Because some apartments, they are booked already. They don’t have any available apartments.” Refugee advocates, service providers and local officials helped transition the families into shelters and hotels. Others are living with friends, or have left the city entirely. Residents in the area were already struggling to find affordable housing and that need is expected to spike in the wake of the storm. Meanwhile, Linn County is closing its overnight shelter in Palo, as the Red Cross says residents preferred to be at the shelter in Cedar Rapids.

That shelter at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids has capacity for about 150 people, and Red Cross spokesman Peter Teahen says coronavirus protocols are in place. Teahen says, “I would strongly encourage, if anyone feels they would like a safe place to stay, with air conditioning, electricity, meals, care and attention, the best place to come is Veterans Memorial Building, now with the entrance on Second Avenue.”

The Palo shelter will now house the agency’s staff, which will open up some local hotel rooms. Teahen says the Red Cross is working to transition displaced residents into hotels, but finding available rooms is still an issue.

(By Kate Payne, Iowa Public Radio)