Having just wrapped up 23 years running a retirement home, Karen Martin sees a good fit in providing temporary lodging for Ukrainian refugees at Hillside Residence in Maryhill.
“I know how to operate a group within the home. When you leave a place and you’re just looking after your own, especially when you’ve gone through trauma … coming in and functioning in a group setting is not entirely familiar. That’s something that I’m used to dealing with [with] the seniors that come in,” she said.
Just last week, she found a new home for the last of her senior residents after deciding to wind down the business.
“It’s been 23 years that I’ve done that, and COVID has not been great for those running the health care thing for seniors,” Martin explained. “At the same time, I was working on using the building, which is a great space – I am not going to continue with seniors at this point for a variety of reasons, and I thought a good use of it would be taking in Ukrainian refugees.”
The building, which has 13 rooms with their own washroom facilities, is located on a 20-acre agricultural site in the middle of the village, just adjacent to Maryhill Heritage Park. With a large kitchen, dining room and three living-room spaces, there’s plenty of room for those in need of lodging just now, she noted.
“It’s a nice calm place. It’s in the center of town. It’s a small town, and there’s a little community centre next door,” said Martin of the location, noting the village locale would work for some of the families arriving from Ukraine.
“It would be an ideal setting for families with littler kids, because teenagers would be better suited if they were in town on a bus line with they could get part-time jobs, go to movies, etc.”
The communal set-up might also work for those transitioning to a completely new environment.
“People would be living communally, but I think for them that might be nice in a foreign country. The idea is that this would just be a landing place where they would come get sort of their feet on the ground, get set up in services, and then see what happens.
“For these people, it provides a community where they don’t have a community.”
The Hillside Residence space will allow organizations helping Ukrainian refugees find space for larger families, notes Stephanie Goertz of the volunteer-led Waterloo Region Grassroots Response (WRGR) group.
“We have an application process that refugee Ukrainians in Europe can complete if they want to come to Waterloo Region. What we do is we connect them with the people in the region that are willing to open up the doors to support them. So having a space and facility like Karen’s place that has 13 bedrooms, that has a communal kitchen and shared living space, it’s an amazing asset to have to welcome Ukrainians,” said Goertz. “Now they have a space, and they can contribute together. People can look after each other’s children, and they can work through the struggles of moving to an area with the support of each other.”
The group, which has a similar working relationship with the Woolwich Guest House for Ukrainian Families at the former – the former Jakobstettel Inn – in St. Jacobs, will provide support to the new arrivals via its volunteer network, she added. As a host, Martin wouldn’t be going it alone in dealing with the newcomers, said Goertz.
WRGR has about 85 hosts today, with some 100 volunteers helping with everything from getting groceries to setting up households.
The group has received some 400 applications, and has thus far been able to help about half of them.
Much of the lodging arranged is fairly short-term, as the refugees are often eager to get more settled rather than relying on others. That in turn frees up space for newcomers.
“It’s been absolutely amazing how quickly people have been finding employment and then going off and finding their own place. You wouldn’t think that within two or three months, families feel settled enough, get all their bank account information, get all their paperwork, get their children’s school, get a job, start working, and then have enough capacity to find their own place. They are extremely versatile,” said Goertz.
Along with volunteers, refugee organizations are always looking for other assistance.
Martin noted there’ll be a need for winter clothing, for instance, and perhaps the likes of bunk beds to held accommodate children. She can be contacted at email@example.com or at 519-500-1655.