Vancouver neighbourhoods need more refugees

October 21, 2019

By Vancouver Sun |

Twenty years ago, refugee claimant families who moved from Kinbrace could afford to rent in East Vancouver. In the last two years these families have been moving as far as Port Moody, Richmond, Coquitlam, and Aldergrove.

I live in East Vancouver just off Commercial Drive. My house looks like a nondescript “Vancouver Special” from the street, but it’s far from ordinary by our city’s standards. Over the past two years, I have shared my home with more than 50 people from over a dozen countries.

On Tuesdays, we cook and eat dinner together, and most other days we share tea in each others’ apartments or conversation in the backyard. While Vancouver suffers from a crisis of isolation, my own days unfold within a rich community. I live with refugee claimants.

Many of my peers’ experience of living in Vancouver is marked by loneliness. I hear this repeatedly in conversation with other young adults, and read it in the statistics of reports such as the Vancouver Foundation’s “Connect and Engage” survey of 2017. We know how to talk about “community,” but we’ve forgotten what it feels like, and we wonder if “neighbour” might be too strong a term for the people who live next door.

Life with refugee claimants at Kinbrace Community Society couldn’t be more of a contrast.

I can’t help but think that the refugee claimants I share a hallway with have something critical to offer us in neighbourhoods across the Lower Mainland. We might be tempted to blame Vancouver’s lack of social cohesion on the housing market and precarious rental arrangements. Yet, the refugee claimants who I have encountered are living in transitional housing, awaiting a refugee hearing which could be two years away, and pursuing integration into Canadian society with no guarantee of being granted protection in Canada.

What could be more precarious?

All the while, these refugee claimants extend trust and hospitality through invitations into their transitional homes. They extend friendship beyond linguistic barriers by delivering a bowl of soup to a neighbour who is sick. They challenge the value I place on productivity by embodying a different value system governed not by time and tasks but by relationships and presence. They offer an alternative way of relating to each other, where being neighbours implies mutual concern and interconnection, rather than incidental proximity.

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