A helping hand for asylum seekers
Hamilton’s only emergency shelter for refugees is at capacity; it’s bracing for more demand due to new U.S. policies
A LITTLE KNOWN HOUSE on a quiet residential street in central Hamilton is part of a network of support for refugees sneaking across the border to seek asylum in Canada.
Hamilton’s only refugee emergency shelter has been welcoming refugee claimants who entered Canada illegally through Quebec since U.S. President Donald Trump’s election, as well as those who’ve entered through official channels.
Micah House, an undistinguishable home on Holton Avenue South, has had what its executive director Rev. Scott Jones calls some “irregular arrivals” — those who crossed into Canada illegally through unguarded border areas.
“I’m glad they found us. Otherwise people don’t know what to do, although they feel if they can get to Canada, they’ll be safe.”
Most seeking shelter, however, come through regular avenues.
But now, with the looming prospect of more refugee claimants coming in from the U.S., Jones and his staff are working to find people in the community willing to house their overflow for up to two weeks at a time.
“We are expecting to see a surge in demand for our help. We have to prepare for it,” says Jones, an ordained Christian Missionary Alliance minister.
“We’re trying to activate as many resources here in Hamilton as we can, like getting the community involved in providing short-term shelter and exploring things with the city.”
Refugee claimants find the non-denominational Micah House through word of mouth, the Internet, information at border crossings or other help agencies.
THE REFUGEE CLAIMANTS “have to be newly arrived in Canada,” says Jones. “We’re not just a hostel.”
Often, people just show up at the door.
If the four-bedroom Micah House is full as it typically is, staff calls around to find another place, like the Good Shepherd family shelter.
Or Micah will put them up in a hotel a couple of nights, Jones says. Sometimes, other agencies foot the bill for the hotel.
Micah can house a dozen people comfortably. The average stay is two months.
“We think of it more as a transitional house. People usually go from here to a place of their own.”
As for those who crossed into Canada illegally and have been recently helped by Micah, Jones won’t elaborate in order to protect their privacy. He doesn’t know yet where the most recent claimants came from — other than they were referred from a full Red Cross shelter in Toronto.
If the refugees have not yet made their claim to the Canadian Border Services Agency, Micah House staff will help them through the process, which will immediately get them federal interim health care and Ontario Works — almost all are eligible for both as soon as they present themselves to the CBSA to claim refugee status, Jones says.
The claimants in the past few years have come mostly from Yemen, Iraq, and North African Muslim countries.
Micah houses about 60 people each year, although this past year it was 90.
Sometimes it turns down 30 people a week, sometimes 30 people a month.
Six people work at the shelter around the clock and 40 volunteers help out by cooking and serving meals.
There is no sign out front in order to protect the claimants’ privacy and its services are not widely advertised. “We want people to feel safe, comfortable.”
Micah House is the only refugee claimant shelter that Jones and local refugee lawyer Lily Tekle know of in Hamilton.
Although the Good Shepherd will take in claimants if it has room, it’s not dedicated solely to refugee claimants. There are other support services in Hamilton, such as Wesley Urban Ministries, for government and privately sponsored refugees who arrive in Canada through official channels.
Micah House has been around since 2006. It gets its name from the little known Christian prophet Micah, who espoused justice, love and humility. It is funded by churches of different denominations, and individuals and major fundraising events, says Jones, adding, “We’re blessed to have very passionate supporters.”
It receives no government funding, he said.
The shelter was the brainchild of Ancaster couple Harold and Maryella Minor, both former missionary workers and ministers who came up with the idea after attending a Refugee Highway Partnership Christian ministry conference in Turkey in 2001.
In Turkey, Maryella, a former nurse and St. Joseph’s Hospital chaplain, met a woman with a refugee shelter in Toronto and was inspired to create one in Hamilton.
“It’s our heart — to see people who are helped,” she says.
But Maryella credits a core group of about 30 Hamilton church people of every denomination that the Minors invited to a meeting for getting Micah House up and running.
“We lit a fire and people ran with it,” says Harold, who now works with refugees and First Nations through an organization called Pioneers.
“We’re just glad it’s running so beautifully and has met the need,” adds Maryella.
Harold would prefer Micah House remain “under the radar,” as it has since opening more than 10 years ago, for the sake of the refugees’ safety there.
However, with the growing need for such shelter, Jones says it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to become more broadly known.
“There’s definitely a need,” he says. “There’s 65 million people displaced in the world, the largest in history.”
“We’re trying to activate as many resources here in Hamilton as we can.” REV. SCOTT JONES EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICAH HOUSE
Rev. Scott Jones is the executive director of Micah House, an emergency shelter for refugees in central Hamilton.
A refugee claimant from Mauritania waves after stepping out of a cab to cross the border into Quebec on Monday.
A refugee claimant from Syria is arrested after crossing into Canada.
About 60 people are housed at Micah House in Hamilton every year.