Sunday, 27 December 2015

Finding Housing for 7

I told someone that this is the hardest thing I have ever done. Upon reflection I realized I was wrong, but it is in the top 5. Finding affordable housing for a family of 7 is almost impossible in Oakville and Mississauga. 

The government’s recommendations for the budget for housing might work in Bancroft, or Timmins or Windsor, but you cannot house this family on $1300 per month. When we have found 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartments or townhouses we have been turned down (4 times) because the family is “too large”. At one townhouse complex I was told by the property manager that they would not rent to refugees. (I will be dealing with that later!) 

We started the search with a criteria list that included things like price, location, on public transit, near a halal butcher, near a food bank etc.. Now most of that has gone out the window. We realize a compromise is necessary. 

While the family is now comfortably ensconced in the home of my generous co-chair this is not workable in the long term. Our family wants to start their own life here in earnest and they are keenly aware of their imposition on their host family. My co-chair is delighted to have them but a 2 or 3 month period was not what she anticipated. I think we have a solution – due to a generous corporation. We will see how that works out and I will tell you more about that when (I must be optimistic) it happens.

A Trip to Service Canada

The 8 week long Private Sponsorship of Refugee Course offered by Immigration Canada said nothing about the possible highs and lows and ups and downs of our visit to Service Ontario with our family of 7 in tow to apply for OHIP. Granted the issue that arose was partially our own fault. 

My co–chair and I had cased our Service Ontario weeks ago. We found out that without a document listing the family’s address they couldn’t apply for OHIP. However, with the help of other more experienced people we determined that by creating a legal lease between the owner of their temporary home (my co-chair) and the family this problem could be surmounted. 

I went into the Service Ontario office feeling fairly confident. Our family of 7 had to go in two cars so two of them were ahead of us in line when we arrived. Their driver motioned to us to take our places beside them. As we moved forward I could hear mutterings as we passed several people and I thought  … bad idea! 

It was too late because a man farther up the line started to yell at us. I apologized for breaching line etiquette and moved the other 5 members of the family to the back of the line. However, the man didn’t stop. He started to rant about his role as a veteran. I am sure he had some mental health problems but that didn’t stop me from being very uncomfortable and embarrassed that the family was being met with this kind of reception at their first time in a public place.  However, thank God for Canadians! 

People began to move towards the family, shaking their hands and welcoming them to Canada. Someone left the office and returned with a large box of Tim Horton’s donuts for them. Another gentlemen offered them a job. It went from being a very uncomfortable experience to a very happy one in short time. I came home very proud of the response of my fellow citizens. All in all it was a great introduction to Canada.

'Twas the Night Before ...

'Twas the night before … not Christmas, but the day we would meet our refugee family at the Hotel Travelodge in Toronto. I had the same feeling of excitement I had when I was a little girl listening to the radio announcer tell us NORAD had picked up the latest location of Santa and he was getting nearer. 

I woke up at 4 am even though we didn’t have to leave for the airport until 9:30 am. When we arrived at the hotel the lobby was abuzz with government workers and recent refugees and a feeling of excitement and energy. A huge Christmas tree in the corner overlooked the scene. We were directed to a table where an Immigration Canada worker checked their list and said the family would be right down. 

I asked them to wait as the relatives of our family had not arrived and I wanted the families to see each other first. As I watched the young children running and tumbling around the room and I could see the relief and happiness in the faces of the parents I struggled to hold back my tears. 

It had been such a long journey to bring our family to Canada that I could barely believe that we were about to meet them. And then we did ….  They emerged from the elevator into the arms of their family, crying and and smiling and holding each other. All of us there felt so privileged to  see this and to be part of this historic yet very personal movement of people to a better life in Canada.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Private Sponsorship of Syrian Refugees


Private sponsorships, named families, blended visa office referred, groups of five, and community groups are all terms used in the sometimes complex world of sponsoring a Syrian refugee family. Seven months ago my friend Katy and I would not have been able to tell you the definitions of any of these phrases. However, since May we have been riding a big learning curve and we would like to share some of our experiences and knowledge with those of you thinking of starting a private sponsorship.

First of all I will address FINDING A FAMILY. Many potential sponsoring groups  are waiting for a family to be assigned by their sponsorship agreement holder. Blended Visa Office Referred is by far the most popular way to sponsor. The government will pay half the costs and the group raises the rest of the funds and takes care of the settlement process. No doubt this is an easier route. You can avoid the lengthy forms and you don't have to do as much fundraising.

However, Katy and I know that there is a huge population of refugees with relatives in Canada frantic to become named sponsors so that they can be reunited with family already here. Since Katy and I were mentioned in local papers we regularly receive emails from people in Canada whose relatives are stuck in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. The tone of the emails can be harrowing as the fear and desperation escalate. The families here are often recent immigrants and can't afford to help their parents, sisters, brothers or cousins. Sometimes they don't have the sophistication to work through the forms and paperwork. They need help. Katy and I have been struggling to link named families with sponsors here. However,we have found most groups prefer to wait for their families to be "given to them".

In the course of my blog I will be addressing the joys and challenges of the private sponsorship of a "named family". The paperwork, the fundraising, getting to know the relatives of the sponsored family that are already in Canada, the settlement team etc. will be some of the topics I will discuss.

By the way our family of 7 will be here by year end! I better get back to apartment hunting.