Han­dling the Refugee Wave

Asian Journal - - Front Page - Ray Hud­son

Sur­rey: Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s prom­ise to re­set­tle twenty-five thou­sand Syr­ian refugees in Canada be­fore the end of the year, has proved to be an im­pos­si­ble dream, only in the sense of the sched­ule he im­posed on the process. Widely sup­ported among Cana­di­ans, the com­mit­ment to wel­come Syr­ian refugees, was launched at a time when the ser­vice providers, who han­dle im­mi­grants and refugees com­ing to Canada, were al­ready close to ca­pac­ity. The lo­gis­tics of it, are far quite daunting for the peo­ple who have the re­spon­si­bil­ity of mak­ing it hap­pen. One or­ga­ni­za­tion is Op­tions Com­mu­nity Ser­vices of Sur­rey. Joe Wood­worth, Se­nior Man­ager, Lori Den­nis, the Deputy Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor and Con­nie Hong, Se­nior Man­ager of Im­mi­grants & Set­tle­ment Ser­vices, spoke with Ray Hud­son about their ef­forts to de­liver their ser­vices to the newly ar­rived Syr­i­ans, part of the wave that will keep com­ing for some time. Asked about the im­pact of the Syr­ian refugee an­nounce­ment on his or­ga­ni­za­tion, Joe Wood­worth re­sponded, “I don’t mean this in a neg­a­tive way, but it’s a greater chal­lenge for us to try and find hous­ing for what is in essence the pop­u­la­tion of a medium sized town. We al­ready strug­gle to find ap­pro­pri­ate, af­ford­able, good hous­ing for our clients, and now there is an ex­tra de­mand. Un­for­tu­nately there isn’t much avail­able hous­ing out there.” “I’m hear­ing through my col­leagues,” said Den­nis, “that the fam­i­lies com­ing from Syria have hous­ing needs that we weren’t pre­pared for, be­cause the fam­i­lies are larger.”

“Refugees are clas­si­fied in two cat­e­gories,” said Con­nie Hong, Se­nior Man­ager of Im­mi­grant & Set­tle­ment Ser­vices, “Govern­ment As­sisted Refugees (GARs) and Pri­vately Spon­sored Refugees (PSRs). GARs seem to have a larger fam­ily size than PSRs and the ma­jor­ity have an av­er­age of 5 to 8 per­sons per ap­pli­ca­tion, while other fam­i­lies have be­tween 10 and 14 per­sons. Nearly 64% of GARs are 14 years old and younger. So a large num­ber of chil­dren means that it’s harder for them to find hous­ing.” Upon ar­rival, the Syr­i­ans are the re­spon­si­bil­ity if Im­mi­grant Ser­vices So­ci­ety, for the first six weeks of their re­set­tle­ment. The ISS the only agency des­ig­nated to deal with this pro­gram. Dur­ing that time, a ma­jor ef­fort is made to move them from the Wel­come Cen­tre (ho­tel) to per­ma­nent hous­ing. “I un­der­stand ISS is hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time find­ing per­ma­nent hous­ing in Sur­rey,” said Hong. “Al­though they could re­lo­cate any­where they would like, I think many want to stay close to the refugee com­mu­nity here. So right now, I’m in the process of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with ISS to see if Op­tions can help, as our work­ers are So­mali and Ara­bic speak­ers and have con­sid­er­able ex­per­tise in find­ing hous­ing for refugees.” “Also.” Hong con­tin­ued, “Since ISS dis­cov­ered that Op­tions has a hous­ing registry, they want to work closely with us to con­duct the hous­ing search. I don’t know yet what we can do for ISS be­cause there isn’t much af­ford­able hous­ing avail­able in Sur­rey for large fam­ily units. At the re­cent City of Sur­rey refugee fo­rum, Chris Friesen of ISS said that dur­ing the ini­tial stages we are see­ing large fam­i­lies, but smaller fam­ily units, sin­gle par­ent fam­i­lies and sin­gle in­di­vid­u­als, more suited to many of our va­can­cies, will come along later this year. ”

Again, how­ever, ser­vice providers are feel­ing the pres­sure of the ad­di­tional refugee load and all that im­plies. Re­cently, the On­tario and BC gov­ern­ments have asked the fed­eral govern­ment to slow the pace of bring­ing the refugees to Canada, but their re­quest was ap­par­ently de­nied and the flow of Syr­ian refugees will con­tinue. “The load was sig­nif­i­cant,” said Den­nis. “Be­cause of our hous­ing registry, which is a one-stop source for peo­ple look­ing for hous­ing. It con­tains all hous­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the City of Sur­rey, and it’s mostly pri­vate sec­tor land­lords. Un­like Van­cou­ver, Sur­rey does not have a lot of SRO (Sin­gle Res­i­dent Oc­cu­pancy) ho­tel rooms for rent. In Sur­rey it’s mostly base­ment suites used as mort­gage helpers, so to keep a registry of pri­vate sec­tor land­lords with one suite avail­able, is a chal­lenge. Op­tions has been do­ing this for a long time though and has de­vel­oped good re­la­tion­ships with a many land­lords with sin­gle units as well as oth­ers with mul­ti­ple units. Main­tain­ing those good re­la­tion­ships is an im­por­tant on-go­ing chal­lenge. Some of our ten­ants are vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, of­ten deal­ing with stress as well as some men­tal health is­sues from the trauma. They may have is­sues they need help with in­clud­ing back­ing out, so what do we do if they be­come dis­placed? Op­tions is key in main­tain­ing those re­la­tion­ships not only with the clients so they don’t be­come home­less, but main­tain­ing that re­la­tion­ship with the pri­vate sec­tor land­lords so we can place the next per­son.” “Then there are the other obli­ga­tions we have that are com­pli­cat­ing fac­tors,” said Joe Wool­worth. “One is that the fed­eral govern­ment has rolled out the Hous­ing First Ini­tia­tive, which is for hous­ing peo­ple who are chron­i­cally and episod­i­cally home­less. It’s an ini­tia­tive to move peo­ple out of long term shel­ters into their own hous­ing. And they’re in the mix on a first come first served ba­sis, an­other com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor. Se­condly, most of the hous­ing stock is base­ments suites, much of it not reg­is­tered with the city, and whose own­ers are re­luc­tant to deal with or­ga­ni­za­tions that they see as govern­ment. They don’t want some or­ga­ni­za­tion, they see as govern­ment, know­ing about their il­le­gal base­ment suite and so, aren’t keen to get in­volved with us. A third com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor is lan­guage. We’ve had a lot of peo­ple who say they’ve got a base­ment suite in south Sur­rey, but that puts a fam­ily of eight, who don’t speak English for ex­am­ple, iso­lated in an area where they’re not go­ing to in­te­grate into that com­mu­nity. They don’t stay there for very long be­fore they re­lo­cate again.” “That’s where our set­tle­ment work­ers are help­ing them to find the hous­ing,” adds Hong. “When the Re­set­tle­ment As­sis­tance Pro­gram (RAP) puts them into Sur­rey, they usu­ally put them into the Guild­ford area be­cause there is a huge Ara­bic-speak­ing com­mu­nity there. That makes sense, but it lim­its fur­ther, the avail­abil­ity of ac­com­mo­da­tion.” “So if peo­ple have ac­com­mo­da­tions, par­tic­u­larly multi-fam­ily ac­com­mo­da­tion that they would like to rent out,” said Den­nis, “check the Hous­ing Registry on our web­site: op­tions.bc.ca. For peo­ple in other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, con­tact Im­mi­grant Ser­vices So­ci­ety of BC at issbc.org and let them know what is avail­able.”

Photo: Ray Hud­son

Lori Den­nis, the Deputy Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor and Joe Wood­worth, Se­nior Man­ager, with Con­nie Hong, Se­nior Man­ager of Im­mi­grant & Set­tle­ment Ser­vices on the phone.

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