Paul fled East Africa with only the clothes on his back to come to the United States in June 2016.
Now a resident of Freedom House, Paul said he first arrived in Houston not being able to speak English but heard about Freedom House in Detroit through word-of-mouth.
“The good thing about Americans is they like to share everything,” he said.
For over two decades, asylum seekers--those fleeing from persecution based on their race, sexual orientation, nationality, political and religious beliefs--from all over the world have sought refuge in Detroit’s Freedom House because it provides shelter and legal service.
“An exceptional 86 percent of Freedom House Detroit clients are able to achieve political asylum status—much higher than the national average,” said Ashley Veenstra, a representative from Freedom House.
Wayne State’s Medical Students and Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic are partners of Freedom House Detroit.
Rachel Settlage, the director of the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic, said the clinic partnered with Freedom House because, “[Freedom House] provides an invaluable service for asylum seekers.”
In December 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development notified Freedom House their grant “would not be renewed due to shifting priorities,” Veenstra said.
“Freedom House is appealing the decision, but must find alternative sources of funding while the appeal moves forward—and in the event that the rejection still stands,” she said.
Settlage said Freedom House is an essential because it provides transitional housing for asylum seekers while students in the clinic work on residents’ cases.
“Asylum seekers come from all over the country to Detroit because of Freedom House, it’s one of the very, very few organizations like this in the country,” Settlage said. “Without [Freedom House], there’s really no place asylum seekers can go.”
Executive director of Freedom House Deborah Drennan said it is not uncommon for the residents at Freedom House to come with academic degrees and from prestigious careers in their home countries.
Paul said that when he fled from his home country—where he was a certified engineer—he left six children and his entire family behind. The familial environment of Freedom House helped Paul regain that emotional attachment during a troubling time in his life, he said.
“My mother died in my country, but I have a new mom,” Paul said.
The residents refer to Drennan as "Mom Deb" and she refers to them as her "sons" and "daughters," Drennan said.
“They want to help,” Paul said. “They don’t want to see anyone in bad condition.”
Paul said he has benefitted from many of the programs at Freedom House since arriving, including the physical and behavioral health services, as well as the English as a second language courses.
“Before coming [to Freedom House], everything was difficult because of communication,” said Paul, who is a native French speaker.
Paul said he wants to learn everything and fully immerse himself in American culture. The relationships he built at Freedom House gave him sense of permanence and emotional support in his new country.
“I’m at home,” he said. “This is family.”
Paul hopes to someday bring his kids to the U.S. and get a job in mechanics, but he doesn't “want to go too far from Mom Deb.”
For safety reasons, Paul's name has been changed.