In April, the DJC Social Justice Committee was contacted by the Welcome Project, a private sponsoring group working with government-assisted refugees (GARS). Unlike the privately-sponsored initiatives, there is little one-to-one assistance for GARS.

When the Welcome Project group reached out to the DJC, eight volunteers stepped forward. The group is working with a small family of three: mother, father and a one and a half year old boy. There are many issues facing these new Canadian immigrants – below are some of the key ones the team has encountered in helping them to settle into their new home. We will continue to share this journey as it unfolds… (posted by Sharron Kusiar, the new Chair of the DJC’s Social Justice Committee, and a member of our Welcome Project team).

Language: With the scarcity of translators, improvisation is key. One of the best means of communicating is Google Translate.  You write out the English question or information to be shared, and it is immediately translated into Arabic script that you can then share with the Arabic-speaker you are in conversation with. It’s cool but not perfect!

ESL Classes:  As LINC ESL classes usually have wait lists, it’s crucial to register people as quickly as possible.  These often provide free day care (but there ARE wait lists) and a supply of TTC tokens. Learning English is crucial for employment and socializing.

Primary Health Care: Refugees often arrive with untreated medical problems; it’s key that they access health care ASAP. The best way to do this is through a Community Health Centre. These centres provide some or all of the following: primary health care, domestic violence prevention and treatment, parenting education, parent-child resource rooms, settlement services, social work, etc. A key support service we are providing as volunteers is to accompany family members on these health care-related visits to act as friendly advocates in “navigating” the system.

Accommodation & Furniture: With GAR families, the government finds accommodation and provides a standard amount of new furniture (beds, table and chairs, coffee table, sofa, love seat and assorted kitchen supplies.) Privately sponsoring groups, such as the DJC, must find accommodation and provide all the necessary furniture. We found it relatively easy for our group to supplement what the family had (based on their needs) from the excellent network of volunteers and resources we have been gathering to prepare for the family we are privately sponsoring.

Banking and Budgeting: Because groceries and essential supplies are usually provided to the family for the first while, they may not grasp just how expensive it is to live here, as opposed to their country of origin. This makes it necessary to establish a budget as soon as possible. This should include rent, utilities, phone, internet, cigarettes, groceries, transportation, diapers and child care. For example, our GARS family receives $1,470 per month from the government, and pays out $1,050 for rent.  In a few months, they will receive an additional $400/month as the Child Tax Benefit.  They will still be paying 56% of their income on rent, leaving them with only $820 for all expenses for the rest of the month. Which is why a discussion about budgeting around living expenses in their new country is so important.

Groceries: It was important to show the family right away where they could buy Halal food, and let them know the cheaper supermarkets (e.g., No Frills, Price Chopper, Food Basics.) We discovered that it is often cheaper for them to buy fresh vegetables at small stores, many of which can be found on the Danforth.

Read more, now posted in “Part II”. We will continue to share more stories about our experiences in the weeks to come.

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