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Home away from former, future homes

| Monday, Nov. 8, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

Correction: Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. today in Manchester for the opening of a transitional housing complex for refugees. The time was incorrect this story (11/08/2004 at 7:45 p.m.)

A newly renovated apartment complex on the North Side soon will provide transitional housing for refugees arriving in Pittsburgh from overseas camps.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday to mark the opening of the 12-unit complex -- a cluster of red brick row houses on Juniata Street in the Manchester neighborhood.

The complex, which will be ready for occupancy later this month, consists of six one-bedroom apartments and six three-bedroom apartments. The Catholic agency spent about $250,00 to buy and renovate the buildings.

"One of the difficulties in resettling refugees is finding an apartment in a short space of time," said Sister Patricia Cairns, executive director of Catholic Charities for the diocese. "We may get a call that a family is coming into the Pittsburgh area and maybe have only a week to locate an apartment, get it furnished and stockpiled with food.

"This gives our staff a lot more lead time to find accommodations," she said.

Cairns said refugees typically will live at the transitional residence for one to six months while they seek work and make other living arrangements.

"Within about six months, they are pretty much on their own financially and can pay their own way," she said.

Catholic Charities is the social service arm of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. The organization has resettled some 10,000 refugees from all over the world to the Pittsburgh area since starting its Refugee Services Program in 1975. Individuals and families have fled their native countries because of war and other conditions, such as racial, political or religious persecution.

The program has provided housing, basic necessities, English-language training and employment counseling to refugees from Southeast Asia, Cuba, Africa, Haiti, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

More than 90 percent of the refugees resettling here find employment within three months of their arrival, Cairns said.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday, with diocesan Bishop Donald Wuerl presiding. Mayor Tom Murphy, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and other officials are scheduled to attend.

"It's a very nice, older building," said Catholic Charities spokesman Michael Andreola. "The apartments are certainly functional and homey. They will be well-equipped and modernized."

The first refugees expected to live in the apartments are Somali Bantus from camps in Kenya. Catholic Charities has resettled 125 Bantus in the Pittsburgh area since March. The charity plans to resettle 55 more here as part of a nationwide plan to resettle about 13,000 Bantu refugees.

The Bantus are African people without a nation of their own. They are descendants of slaves taken to Somalia from Tanzania and Mozambique in the late 19th century. They had no status in Somalia and, therefore, became targets for attack when that country disintegrated into civil war in 1991.

The Bantus fled the war by the thousands and initially were settled in refugee camps in Kenya.

"They have pretty much been run out of their own country," Cairns said.

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