Housing situation worries refugee families

Rentals hard to come by when vacancy rate is near zero.

Five-year-old Mohamad and his dad

Five-year-old Mohamad and his dad

For several of the Syrian refugees who have found a peaceful life in Salmon Arm, gratitude is now tinged with apprehension.

Sponsoring groups commit to supporting refugee families for 12 months, says Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition founder Brian Ayotte.

“At the end of that, they’re supposed to be able to speak English, find a job and a place to live and get a driver’s licence,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s not all that easy; some have done very well with English and a couple have found full-time jobs.”

Two refugees now have driver’s licences but Ayotte says that’s a bit of a challenge because driver’s licences are expensive and those who take lessons do better but lessons are expensive too.

“They are delighted to be here, they’re very grateful,” says Ayotte, who recently attended one of the special ESL classes. “They’re coming along, but it’s a huge transition it’s like going to Mars.”

The one thing the refugees need the most help with now, is finding a place to live.

For the past three months, Nelson Graham has been working to find accommodations for Syrian families in a community where realtors say there is next to no rental housing.

“I’ve had my ear to the ground hoping to find something, but it’s an uphill battle with the lack of housing in Salmon Arm,” he said, noting several of the Syrian refugee families will have been here for a year, which means they will lose housing support from their private or government sponsors.

“I’m working to find solutions for barriers the refugees will face when they have to find housing on their own,” says Graham, who has been in contact with property managers, realtors as well as hotels and motels. “With more refugees arriving, it isincreasing the strain on those resources.”

He is hoping people who have more than one home, a vacation home or a rental suite, would be willing to lend the refugees a place to stay until more long-term accommodation can be secured.

“Usually only one person in the family works and their English skills are limited at this time,” he says.

Anyone who can help is asked to contact Graham by sending an email to nelsongraham91@hotmail.com.

In Salmon Arm, eight churches, a community group and Rotary clubs are supporting nine families, for a total of 45 people.

Meanwhile, Ayotte says, at this point in time no refugees will be coming to Salmon Arm this year. But most of the groups are considering taking on another family – maybe Syrian, maybe from Myanmar, Latin American or elsewhere.

He says that at any time, there are 60 million refugees in dire straits in the world, who have had to run for their lives. But the federal government has cut back from the 36,000 refugees allowed entry to Canada last year to 36,000 fully vetted refugees in 2017.

There are, however, more than 17,000 people on the waiting list, so if someone offered to sponsor a refugee today, they would not see them before late 2018.

This impacts Salmon Arm refugees, who worry about relatives they have left behind in terrible circumstances.

“Families here are all asking if the groups would support extended families, and we say we’ll start the process, but you need to understand it will take a long time,” says Ayotte. “It’s a complicated process.”

Anyone who would like to help the Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition, can do so at any of the churches, where they will be able to get receipts, or go to SASCU and have your donation deposited directly into Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition Account.