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

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - CARMELA FRAGOMENI

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.

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