Some 11 Syrian refugee families have agreed to move to Elmira and St. Jacobs, but now there’s the challenge of finding housing for them.
Reception House executive director Albert Lobe says they’re working hard to get a few families into the rural communities. They have a hunch if they can get two or three families, it would start to grow to 11 or 12, and that would be their goal.
“We certainly want it to happen. We know that Elmira has great schools, it’s a great community, it wraps its arms around strangers and newcomers. So we’d love to see a small group of Syrians, new Canadians, in Elmira,” Lobe said.
Approximately 300 refugees are with Reception House now and every two or three days they pitch the idea of relocating to smaller towns outside of the cities.
“That’s a big challenge and they don’t quite understand the opportunities they would have there for friendships, for neighbours, for welcome, for employment, schools, ESL, all those things,” Lobe said.
They’ve been looking for apartments for the smaller families. Recently they took two families to see them and one family in particular decided against going. Reception House staff go out to the apartments and houses to make sure they’re clean and situated well and within the financial means, which the government provides for them for a year, and they were approved, but still the families weren’t interested in the two bedroom apartments.
“I just spoke with them again yesterday and I said ‘man what an opportunity you missed,’ through a translator. ‘That’s a small community that would have really welcomed you.’ There was an upholstery man considering moving to Elmira and I said ‘you can start a small business there just like that,’” Lobe said.
He says the majority of them want to be close to the other refugees, to the mosque, and to halal shopping, but there is only so much room in the cities, and more importantly there’s only so much affordable housing available.
“I think we have to start to look at the needs of some of our people and the kinds of jobs they’re looking for because I’m pretty confident the Elmira community and larger area around it would have employment for quite a number of these folks,” Lobe notes.
The families with six or seven children will pose a larger challenge. He says despite this they will continue looking.
Theoretically refugees stay with Reception House for two weeks and during that time they do the six modules of training about being in Canada, with information on subjects like dentists, doctors, ESL, schools, and what it’s like to be a Canadian. During that time they look for housing.
Refugees have been staying at DH Lodging since the end of December, but it’s uncertain if they’ll end up locating there permanently.
“Most of them are with us for more than two weeks now because we can’t find housing. Will they live in St. Jacobs? Certainly they would if they have friends there. They stay for two or three weeks and then they move out and new people move in. It’s also hard to find affordable housing there,” Lobe said.
He says local residents can help by writing a letter to Reception House saying they would welcome the refugees in their community. He’d then take that to the refugees in their three locations because that might be the kind of welcome some would respond well to.
“What we need from a place like Elmira or St. Jacobs is a small group of people to surround them. These are not privately sponsored refugees that have come to a group that hangs in there with them for a year and pays their bills. These are government assisted. We need those people in small communities like Elmira to surround them and encourage them and welcome them,” Lobe said.