Imagine having to leave your family and your home forever because your life, and possibly that of your family if you remain, is in grave danger. You arrive in a foreign country where you may not speak the language and you have to navigate rebuilding your life completely from scratch. And your first challenge? Find a safe place to live.
This is a scenario that so many refugees to Canada face every year, and it’s why Concert has partnered with local non-profits Journey Home Community (JHC) and Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC) to launch the ground-breaking initiative Meanwhile Spaces, which provides safe and stable short-term housing for refugee claimants who are rebuilding their lives in British Columbia.
By utilizing residential buildings that are awaiting development, Meanwhile Spaces houses resettled refugees and refugee claimants who arrive here after danger or persecution in temporary homes at below-market rent. As an early adopter, Concert is the first local developer to lend support for this type of partnership and so far four families and eleven men from Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Colombia, Ethiopia and Eritrea have been provided with a safe place to live.
“Safe and affordable housing is the number one need for newcomer refugee families,” says JHC Executive Director Brad Kinnie. “Once here, many claimants are at grave risk of homelessness and often end up on the streets, in shelters, or in unsafe housing. The initial months of settlement are a crucial time when refugees acclimatise to a new culture and start their journey toward a successful new life in Canada. We encourage other real estate developers and municipalities to review their portfolios and examine projects in urban centres for potential properties that could be used in the short term to help provide a home for refugees.”
One refugee claimant recently shared what it felt like to move into a home that Concert provided. “I spent several years moving from one country to another, living in temporary shelters where I never felt safe or secure, while constantly trying to reunite with my family. After finally arriving in Canada, ISSofBC and JHC helped me find this home and for the first time in so long I finally feel safe and secure. I haven’t seen my family in nine years and I will be meeting them soon. I am so happy to be here, to be able to start over with them in a safe place.”
“Giving back to the communities in which we live and work has been a key principle for us since day one,” says David Podmore, OBC, Concert’s Chair, President & CEO. “Through our previous work with ISSofBC housing Syrian refugees, we know just how important this initiative is in providing a safe home for those escaping persecution. Given the housing crisis we are facing, we don’t want any homes sitting empty, and given the short-term nature of this program, we felt this was a great way to utilize these homes. We’re proud to be partnering again with ISSofBC and now, with JHC, to support the Meanwhile Spaces program and help fill this need.”
Learn more about the stories of some of these refugees (image and name of the person on camera not provided to protect their identity) as they describe, in their own words, their experience fleeing their countries and ultimately finding safe haven through the Meanwhile Spaces program:
See also a story in the June 17 issue of the Globe & Mail here (this story is viewable once for non-subscribers, then will require a subscription for further viewings).