With nowhere left to run, refugees in KC's Northeast are still waiting to make this home 

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At 8:30 p.m. the same day, the 29-year-old woke to a loud crash. Suddenly, the knocking stranger was standing in his bedroom, pointing a handgun at him and his wife and their 1-year-old daughter, and shouting in a language that the African natives could barely understand.

He demanded money, but the immigrants couldn't understand. As the family sprawled on the bed, the robber ransacked the apartment. Habum later told police that he wasn't sure if the man had taken anything. They didn't have much to steal.

Carrying their plastic bags stamped "IOM: International Organization for Migration," the family fled to a nearby apartment building on Benton. A sign on the building's front door advises tenants to keep it closed, but it's rarely locked. By dusk, the chipped purple paint and fraying carpet recede into the unlighted hallway.

Upstairs, in a third-floor apartment, a recently arrived Somali refugee says she remembers the night when Woldetatios frantically knocked on doors in her building. "We are scared even in the daytime," she says. "We don't open the doors because of safety."

Less than a mile north, on Prospect Avenue, Nibitanga shares that fear.

On November 8, Nibitanga's brother-in-law, Niyondavyi Mandaro, was at the family's apartment. He heard a series of bangs at the back door, she says. When he went to investigate, he found himself facing a man wielding a knife. According to the police report, the intruder kicked his way inside, then lashed out with the knife, cutting Mandaro on the forehead.

The ambulance gave the then 22-year-old first aid, but the cut didn't require stitches. The next day, Nibitanga says, a relative went to the JVS office to express concern about security and ask that her family be relocated.

Ten days later, nothing has changed.

"They never responded to my request," Nibitanga says.

Weitkamp says he's aware of the Ethiopian family who was robbed — he had the family moved to the neighboring building that same night. (Ntahondereye and Nyandwi, in addition to at least one other refugee family, still live in the burglarized building.) He's also familiar with the attempted robbery on Prospect. He emphasizes that the man injured wasn't a JVS-sponsored family member and that a caseworker was there when the ambulance arrived.

Weitkamp says many apartments are out of the question; most landlords won't take a tenant who doesn't have a Social Security number, a job or any U.S. work history. Bobbi Baker & Friends is one of the rental companies with which JVS has a standing relationship, but the concentration of refugees in the Northeast section of the city isn't based solely on its preponderance of Bobbi Baker properties. Foster says JVS also tries to keep groups of refugees from the same country in the same neighborhood to build community. Some who are placed elsewhere — say, in the Northland — move back to the Northeast to be closer to people from their native land, she says.


Like a scorekeeper presiding over a losing contest, Weitkamp keeps a whiteboard on the north wall of his small office. It's a mid-November afternoon, but the dates for new refugee arrivals reach well into December. Already there are 15 names, representing 23 new refugees.

According to Weitkamp, federal bureaucrats are gambling by sending this many people to Kansas City.

"This is just irresponsible," he says with a wince, looking up at the board.

Over October and November, he says, JVS received more than 100 refugees. The staff training that Weitkamp has been meaning to do since he arrived at JVS in August keeps getting pushed off.

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