Local groups welcome asylum seekers while governments debate funding

Premier David Eby says the federal government should be doing more to help with refugee claimants, and other issues. Province of BC Flickr image

While BC Premier David Eby and federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller are debating support for asylum seekers, local groups with strong roots in the Christian community quietly carry on their very practical support of these new arrivals.

Eby started off by saying that BC and the Western provinces should receive a fair share of the $750 million Ottawa recently agreed to send Quebec in order to help pay for settlement services.

Miller responded that the deal with Quebec is not related to temporary residents, but is meant to help with the disproportionate number of asylum seekers who have come to that province.

Eby said Miller’s response is disingenuous, arguing that Ottawa offers special treatment to Quebec and Ontario.

Supporting asylum seekers

Two Metro Vancouver groups are leading the way in welcoming asylum seekers (or refugee claimants).

  • Kinbrace

When Michelle Elliot hosted a show about the federal funding issue on CBC Radio’s BC Today June 11, one of her guests was Loren Balisky, director of engagement (and co-founder) of Kinbrace Refugee Housing & Support, based in east Vancouver.

He said asylum seekers need support early on, and agreed that federal funding could make a major difference for them.

Kinbrace has provided housing and support since 1998, he said, adding:

We were the first community that really began to address the housing issues of refugee claimants. Over the years we’ve just seen increasing numbers of refugee claimants arriving, and a very slow response on the ground, in general, to the needs.

For perspective, 10 years ago there were about 700 refugee claimants who arrived in BC, and in 2023 we had 7,700 – so a tenfold increase.

Refugee claimants, unlike other government-assisted or privately-sponsored refugees have nobody to meet them at the airport when they arrive or when they come across at a land border. They’re basically coming unannounced on their own quest for safety.

This creates a real dilemma for them because they have no connections, they have often run out of resources, so many of them do end up in our shelter system, just really seeking to survive and find their next step as they seek their protection their here in Canada.

What we’ve seen over the years is that refugee claimants who are supported really well from the beginning, they get on their own two feet and they’re on their way in a much faster way than people who are left falling through cracks or don’t get the housing they need or the support they need.

Loren Balisky believes the federal government should provide more support for refugee claimants.

Asked whether he thinks Premier Eby is right to demand more federal money, Balisky said:

I think so. If we need to look at it proportionately, refugee claimants get very little support. There’s no federal support for their settlement needs, and the province picks up a piece of that settlement need.

We’d love to see settlement support and housing support, transitional housing built for refugee claimants.

If we just look at sheer numbers, BC received 7,700 refugee claimants last year, which is about five percent of the total number of claims in Canada – 144,000. I did a quick [calculation]; it would be about $37 million that would come to the province, in proportion to what Quebec has just received. That would be a huge amount of money to help take some major steps to help refugee claimants.

Ann Barnard Ball, who used to lead New Hope Community Services (see below) and recently became Senior Vice President of Advancement at Trinity Western University, recently posted her SFU Master of Urban Studies thesis, in which she “conducted qualitative interviews with former Kinbrace residents and discovered a crucial factor in a refugee’s successful integration into Canadian society – social citizenship.”

Verity Leung will be performing to raise money for Kinbrace tonight (June 13) at Kerrisdale. Go here for information on her ‘Verity et Caritate’ concert.

  • Journey Home Community

Journey Home Community is, like Kinbrace, a leader in welcoming refugee claimants. Beginning in 2005 through Willingdon Church, it now has three main ways of offering “short term emergency housing, case management and walk-alongside support”:

  • Welcome Homes

Welcome Homes are permanent Journey Home Community transitional homes. In a posture of friendship and community support, Welcome Homes offers short term housing (3 – 4 months) followed by support to move into more permanent homes (subsidized or market rentals). Staff provide wrap-around case management from intake until the results of the refugee determination hearing (9 – 12 months on average).

  • Meanwhile Spaces

Meanwhile Spaces are temporary Journey Home Community transitional homes shared by developers who have empty spaces or homes they are preparing for demolition. In a posture of friendship and community support, Meanwhile Spaces, offers short term housing (3 – 4 months) followed by support to move into more permanent homes (subsidized or market rentals).

  • Communities of Welcome

Emulating Canada’s Private Sponsorship Program, Journey Home trains and coaches community groups and faith communities to receive a refugee claimant family or individual, and walks with them for a year providing housing, and sharing information and referrals for access to settlement supports.

Journey Home will be hosting Love Without Borders: Welcoming Refugee Claimants Orientation, June 22 – an opportunity to learn more about their work and how to participate as a volunteer.

In Abbotsford, Inasmuch Community Society does much the same work as Kinbrace and Journey Home.

One other group in Metro Vancouver has an overlapping mandate:

  • New Hope Community Services

New Hope Community Services welcomes and supports refugee families:

New Hope provides housing and support services for refugee families as they transition into life in Canada.

We own and operate a 13-unit apartment building in Surrey, and partner with community agencies to help refugee families access resources they may need.

Through our dedicated staff and generous volunteers, we provide support services such as language training, educational assistance, employment opportunities and more. Moreover, we create a supportive, welcoming community for newcomers to gain their independence and thrive.

We’ve seen the lives of our residents changed immensely and their hope renewed. It is our joy, commitment and passion to continue this mission.

New Hope will be hosting two Welcome Home Dessert Night Fundraisers, June 20 and 21 at their apartment / ministry centre.

If you can’t attend the Kinbrace, Journey Home or New Hope events they would be happy to receive donations for their work.

There is also a significant network developing in Metro Vancouver.

Church Network for Refugee Welcome

CityGate Vancouver has been connecting networks (Journey Home, Kinbrace, New Hope, Inasmuch, CRC BC Refugee Welcome) and churches (Tenth, St. John’s Vancouver and many others) working with asylum seekers and refugees for some time now.

Their recent newsletter reported on a significant gathering earlier this year:

On February 3, over 80 people gathered for an event organized by this network of churches (and agencies) welcoming refugees. Our focus for the third in-person gathering of this network was upon exploring housing solutions for refugees, particularly refugee claimants (those seeking protection at the Canadian border).

After hearing an inspiring story of a family who opened their home to a refugee claimant and getting an update on the housing crisis facing refugee claimants from Dena Nicholai, we gathered in three groups to explore solutions.

All three groups came up with ideas that are now being followed up, including opening church halls specifically for refugee claimants, hiring a roving settlement worker to help individuals and churches wanting to open their home to refugees and developing a fund whereby people can invest their money that will help churches get started on developing housing for refugees.

Smaller groups have met since and a Zoom meeting will be held June 28. There will likely be another meeting in the fall. You can contact CityGate here to learn more.

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