Nowhere to stay

Government fails newcomers to Canada

Refugees living in Winnipeg face a huge obstacle to their settlement: a serious lack of adequate housing. The plight of new refugees and immigrants is hidden between the cracks of government bureaucracy, but cannot be ignored.

Many new refugees and immigrants arrive through the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council’s settlement centre known as Welcome Place, located in Central Park. The government provides 20 days of free housing before refugees must find a permanent home. And though Welcome Place does its best to provide people with the means and ability to find homes and settle in Winnipeg (often allowing them to stay months longer than the government-prescribed 20 days), many get caught in an ongoing search for suitable housing that can last years.

The problem is not at Welcome Place, but located through the inadequacies of Winnipeg’s general housing market and the lack of support refugees and immigrants receive from the government.

I cannot imagine having to find a clean and safe place to live in this city on a government stipend that may only be, at most, $400 a month. And many newcomers are provided much less than that. Agencies such as Manitoba Housing Authority refuse to even consider the applications of refugee claimants.

The main problem though is our prejudice against newcomers to Winnipeg. Landlords turn a cold shoulder to many immigrants’ predicament, citing that these families (which are often large) are loud or don’t take proper care of the property. Furthermore, it is rare to find an apartment or rental house for less than $700 or $800 that is a suitable home for a family of eight or nine.

Between small budgets, shabby housing options and dangerous neighbourhoods, they are really given little incentive to stay.

Somehow, the government expects new families to feel welcome in this country of refuge, despite that between small budgets, shabby housing options and dangerous neighbourhoods, they are really given little incentive to stay.

Kids who have little to do and feel ostracized at school are pulled into gangs. Landlords threaten eviction with any minor complaint of noise. Employers cite language difficulties or lack of qualifications resulting in them often providing only minimum wage jobs.

Refugee families come from some of the most violent and desperate parts of the world. Canada is a new, hopeful option as somewhere safe that can finally be considered home. Instead we consign them to the only places available – the places that no one else wants.

The government’s serious failure to help these people is reflected in their lives every day. How can we suggest that this is a good place for them to be when we offer them so little? But any review of the program could take years and would probably only result in the degradation of services, either narrowing the scope of what is provided, or severely limiting the number of people Canada takes in every year. Neither of these is a satisfactory solution.

There may not be a cut and dry answer to this problem. In fact, just realizing that these issues exist is the first step towards a brighter future. Canada is a multinational country, and one that was created through immigration. People will always arrive, and they cannot hope to begin a better life here if we refuse to help.

Published in Volume 63, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 26, 2009)

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