Kansas City home for refugees remains empty after travel ban
The bright white house on North Brighton Avenue is vacant.
On Thursday night, it was to become home to a family of nine Somali refugees: four girls, four boys and their mother. They had been scheduled to arrive earlier that day at Kansas City International Airport.
“This morning, there should’ve been a family here waking up to their first day in America,” said Jonathan Hyde, who on Friday entered the silent bungalow with a few others involved in refuge settlement.
They walked about barren hardwood floors, where donated sofas and a dining table with 10 chairs were to have been arranged, and imagined what may have been.
It’s harder in some ways to imagine what now is for the Somalis not here. They’re most likely back in a tent city on a Kenyan desert.
They had come so close to launching new lives far from the refugee camp where they’ve been for several years.
According to their Kansas City sponsor, Della Lamb Community Services (which for the family’s safety would not disclose their names), they went through a two-year vetting process. In recent weeks, they spent time with an intergovernmental resettlement organization in Nairobi, where they were tutored on U.S. culture and screened for good health — only to be kept from boarding a scheduled flight to New York. A jetliner to Kansas City awaited there.
The family was stopped because of President Donald Trump’s executive order placing a temporary ban on travel for all refugees and the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Somalia. The order means at least another three or four months of tent life for the family once headed for North Brighton Avenue.
This rental house was a real find.
Four bedrooms? Not many of them around these northeast Kansas City neighborhoods where many refugees land.
A garage. A sunny backyard. French doors off the living room and a sprawling upstairs intended for the boys.
Plus, and this is important, a property owner and leasing agent willing to take in refugee tenants — for $750 a month, paid for by Della Lamb.
“I believe in giving people chances,” said agent Diana Lawson, working on behalf of owner Raineth Housing investment firm. “I really, really wanted Della Lamb to get this house.”
As did many others, including the volunteer “cleaning crew” from Country Club Christian Church on Ward Parkway.
Eight spry scrubbers — mostly retired women — were poised to descend on the bungalow Tuesday. They do this regularly to help refugees get off to a white-glove start.
Here they were to wipe down the counters, wash the donated tableware, vacuum, scour the bathroom and spread fresh sheets on the beds. All nine beds.
“I like to pat the pillows before I leave, knowing someone’s head is going to rest there,” said organizer Jackie Cunningham, 72, of Lee’s Summit.
“It’s what a mother does with pillows. I know, a little corny.”
The cleaning crew received their marching orders from Della Lamb just a day or two before Trump signed the travel ban. His action killed their project. Cunningham said she and other volunteers from her church will continue to donate goods to Della Lamb throughout the period when the ban is in effect.
“Obviously it’s sad all around,” said Cunningham, a Trump supporter. Believing the executive order was necessary to make the country safer, she hopes the Somali family ultimately makes their way here along with many other refugees. “I assume all these are good people.”
On Friday, Della Lamb case worker Khadra Aden — herself a Somali refugee who came to America in 1995 — offered The Star a tour of the empty house.
She had planned to set up bunk beds in the girls’ room.
There would be a donated TV in the corner of the living room. Upstairs where the boys would sleep, Aden envisioned a separate office for the oldest, age 18.
The youngest boy, who is 4, and his 7-year-old sister were born in the refugee camp.
Had they arrived in Kansas City, most of the children would have been attending school within a week. Two siblings were old enough to be placed in jobs.
And Aden can only imagine the family soaking up rays in the grass behind the house on North Brighton.
“African children love to be outside,” she said. “I can see them out here.”
In a few months, when the travel ban is lifted, the nine Somalis could well be living in Kansas City, said Hyde of Della Lamb.
But not in this house. Leasing agent Lawson said eager tenants who aren’t refugees already have lined up.