Journey Home Community works with refugee claimants, those who arrive in Canada without sponsors. Also known as asylum seekers, they arrive with few resources and are at grave risk of homelessness.
In its June newsletter (slightly modified here), Journey Home points to two initiatives – ‘Welcome Homes’ and ‘Communities of Welcome’ – through which they help refugee claimants.
Following that is a brief description, from their site, of the ‘Meanwhile Spaces’ program.
It all started when a small group in Willingdon Church became aware that refugee claimant families were arriving with no one to welcome them and ending up homeless and isolated. The fellowship group knew they must act.
In late 2005, Journey Home Community became an official, albeit grassroots, organization with a very low budget. That year we assisted four refugee families in the best way we could.
We are now on track to help between 250 – 300 individuals this year and we are preparing to launch a new community house in Burnaby in our Welcome Homes program. Willingdon Church is making available a large six-bedroom home which will house two families at a time.
When Willingdon Church first came into possession of this property, they looked at the pressing needs of the city, and asked themselves: “Could this house become a refuge for those in need?”
John Best, a pastor at Willingdon Church, realized that partnering with Journey Home Community was the obvious answer. Recognizing that it would take years for Willingdon to acquire the knowledge and expertise to successfully run a refugee house themselves – and familiar with Olivet Welcome Homes [in New Westminster] – he couldn’t help but see it as the perfect model for Willingdon House.
John is excited about the potential of this house. What he hopes to see happen is relational engagement between the residents and members of Willingdon Church.
He knows that it would be easier if they just got the house up and running and didn’t engage further. But he also sees the church as uniquely positioned to welcome people from all over the world, as there are over 76 nationalities represented in their church community.
There will be opportunities for the church to create a caring community for those living at Willingdon House. Groups will be organized seasonally to help with yard maintenance. Community dinners, like those at Journey Home Community’s other Welcome Homes, would afford further opportunities for church Life Groups to engage relationally.
Recently John showed the house to a group of women who meet regularly at the church to make quilts. On the day they visited, they left a homemade quilt on each bed. Later the same day day, eight of the women returned to deep clean the house. Such touches of caring show arriving refugee claimants that we are waiting to welcome them as they settle into a new land.
Over the past 18 years, the partnership between Willingdon Church and Journey Home has grown stronger. As John stated, “This is a unique and natural next step.”
With the opening of Willingdon House, we can now say “yes” to more refugee claimants.
The team at Journey Home deeply appreciates our many church partners who do so much to support refugee claimants. We believe this is part of our collective biblical response to welcome the stranger.
Is your church interested in learning how they can welcome refugee claimants? If they are, email [email protected] and start a conversation.
Communities of Welcome
Eight years ago, St. John’s Vancouver embarked on a journey to welcome refugees. They started by sponsoring an Afghan family in India seeking refuge in Canada. After four long years, the family finally arrived. However, in December 2022, an unexpected event unfolded. Family members who had previously fled Afghanistan to Pakistan and then Brazil on a humanitarian visa showed up at their doorstep.
This courageous family had embarked on an arduous journey, walking from Brazil, through 14 countries in South America, Central America and North America, to arrive in Vancouver. Despite their resilience, these two families found themselves living in a cramped three-bedroom apartment with 12 individuals. These families were the church’s ‘neighbours.’
Since 2016, St. John’s Vancouver has been dedicated to walking alongside refugees. In 2021, they formed a partnership with Journey Home and welcomed their first family under Journey Home’s new Communities of Welcome initiative.
A year later, Jonathan [Baylis, St. John’s Refugee Committee liaison,] reconnected with Journey Home, and we welcomed a family into one of our newly acquired five-bedroom homes, part of our Meanwhile Spaces initiative.
As a partner in the Communities of Welcome program, St. John’s Vancouver assumes the responsibility for settlement assistance and the fostering of relational connections. Members of the church’s Community of Welcome – 16 compassionate volunteers – have formed profound friendships with the refugee families they support.
Whenever the families require any assistance, the committee members readily offer their help. Moreover, they spend quality time with them, providing emotional support and companionship and learning from them. Through their efforts, one committee member, who happened to be a teacher, managed to promptly enroll the children in school and extracurricular activities.
We hear from our Communities of Welcome committee members that as relationships deepen, so does their understanding of what it means to struggle and overcome, and of different ways of looking at the world. This transforms all involved.
Without the collective efforts of Journey Home Community and St. John’s Vancouver, these families would have faced isolation and desperation. However, through this partnership, they have been welcomed into community, expanded their network of connections and now enjoy personal relationships with numerous individuals who genuinely care for their well-being.
JHC: Jonathan, you and your church have had many years of experience walking alongside refugees. What is something that you can’t really prepare for, or that surprises you about these relationships?
Jonathan: You are dealing with folks who seem fine, but they are dealing with trauma and PTSD. Sometimes they say and do things that make you wonder why. Sometimes you are dealing with family dysfunctions. But that is what true friendship is, standing with them through these difficult times.
JHC: When the next generation of this family reflects on their time with you and the relationships they formed with members of St. John’s, what do you think or hope they will remember?
Jonathan: I hope that they will have experienced God’s love for them through the community of faith. That they would remember the gifts received when needed, like a bike to ride to school. I hope the 10 year old will grow up to have a positive view of our faith.
JHC: If another church or community group asked you if they should become a Community of Welcome, what would you say to them?
Jonathan: They do ask me, and I say, “You should do it.” As a community of believers, if you know of a need, you stop to help. Like the Good Samaritan. But it is not just about helping refugee families, this is a discipleship and training ministry for your parish. When they build relationships with these families, they are maturing and growing in their faith journey.
We are thankful to Jonathan and St. John’s Vancouver for their work with refugees. Their experience exemplifies the transformative impact that communities can have on the lives of refugee claimants and those who help them settle. By extending a helping hand and fostering genuine connections, these families start to rebuild their lives with dignity and hope.
There are more refugee claimants arriving in Metro Vancouver than Journey Home is able to assist. You can help address this gap through forming a Community of Welcome. Journey Home Community will train and equip your church or group to extend a welcoming hand and provide practical support to those who need it most. To welcome a family, please contact [email protected].
The Meanwhile Spaces program uses Metro Vancouver’s empty buildings to provide transitional housing for refugee claimants. Here are a couple of recent examples:
- Concert Properties
Concert Properties, owned and backed by union and management pensions and with $8 billion in assets, teamed up with two non-profits in BC that provide settlement supports to refugees – Journey Home Community and Immigrant Services Society of BC – to launch Meanwhile Spaces.
Giving back to the communities in which we live and work has been a key principle for us since day one,” says David Podmore, OBC, Concert’s Chair, President and CEO:
Given the housing crisis we are facing, we don’t want any homes sitting empty, and given the short-term nature of this program, we felt this was a great way to utilize these homes. We’re proud to be partnering again with ISSofBC and now, with JHC, to support the Meanwhile Spaces program and help fill this need.
Concert recently extended the use of nine two-bedroom apartments until January 30, 2023.
What started as a local family business over 60 years ago currently has over 40 active projects across the Lower Mainland, with 1,897 residential units under construction. Journey Home is delighted that Wesgroup has offered five one-bedroom apartments, for the housing of refugee claimants.
By the end of January 2023, Journey Home is seeking to have 35 meanwhile spaces available for refugee claimants. Right now, there are 14 available. Join Concert Properties and Wesgroup and help refugee claimant families and individuals avoid homelessness by providing them housing for a minimum of eight months.
Go here for more information about Meanwhile Spaces.