Homeless no more, refugees lend a hand
Jon Hand, Staff writer
Once homeless himself, Bijaya Khadka was back among the homeless today.
This time, it was not the thousands of refugees Khadka spent the first 19 years of his life with in a Nepalese refugee camp having no home in his native home of Bhutan or any other country.
Khadka and his fellow South Asian refugees who came to the U.S. and became American citizens in the past decade were handing out coats, scarves and gloves to the tenants of Sanctuary Village, the makeshift outdoor housing for the homeless under the Douglass-Anthony Bridge.
“We know what it’s like to be homeless,” said Khadka, who gathered the clothing from several Nepalese-owned stores that have opened along Lake Avenue in the few years since they began arriving in 2007.
They are stores that the resilient and hard-working refugees opened by pooling their money and working hard.
“We wanted to give back to our city,” he said. “If we won’t help them, who will?”
The homeless encampment has had its share of changes in the weeks since it was formed in December.
Two days before Christmas, Mayor Lovely Warren’s office said they had met with Sister Grace Miller, founder of the House of Mercy shelter, and agreed on steps to better serve the homeless in the long- and short-term, including allowing the camp to remain through the New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
It was a turnaround from the previous week when the city cleared the camp with a small tractor to clean up their tents and belongings, saying that conditions there were unsafe and that it had arranged shelter for most people who slept there. The encampment sprang back up a day later while advocates launched an online fundraising campaign to build a new shelter in the city.
Khadka said he also knows what it’s like to be unwanted, as he’s sure many of the people at Sanctuary Village feel the same way.
Khadka said Bhutanese government officials wanted them to speak Bhutanese, forced them to wear their national dress, burned Nepali books and Nepali national dress, causing a small “war between Bhutanese and Nepalese in Bhutan.”
A mix of Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian, most were forced back into eastern Nepal but were not given citizenship and were not allowed to own land.
The camps that housed the 100,000 refugees were much larger than the one that holds Sanctuary Village and its handful of tents and tenants, but Khadka feels they have the same concerns.
“We had no food, no housing, no good education,” Khadka said. “Like the homeless here. Health conditions were bad and people died everywhere. We want to stop that from happening here.”
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