Large refugee families hard to house in B.C.

February 4, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

Large family sizes and a shortage of three-bedroom units have meant the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. has been able to find housing for less than a quarter of the government-assisted Syrian refugees.

The remainder are housed in hotels or apartment buildings funded by the federal government through the society.

As of Monday, the society — tasked by Ottawa with resettling all government-assisted refugees to this province — had found permanent homes for only 210 of the 913 Syrians who started arriving in the province in late December, said settlement services director Chris Friesen.

B.C. will likely pass the 1,000 mark over the weekend, when more are scheduled to arrive, he added. An additional 2,500 are projected to land in the province by the end of the year.

For the first time, the Immigrant Services Society and Ottawa are in discussions aimed at sending government-assisted Syrian refugees outside Metro Vancouver, Friesen said. They are looking at eight communities in the Okanagan, northern B.C. and on Vancouver Island, he said, but declined to name them as the contracts are not yet in place.

Refugee arrivals to several cities, including Vancouver, were paused last month for varying lengths of time as settlement agencies scrambled to find permanent housing. The Immigrant Services Society now keeps Ottawa informed on how much space there is in the temporary residence hotels and the federal government times new arrivals accordingly, Friesen said.

One in five of the newly arrived Syrians is under the age of 6, and almost two-thirds — 61 per cent — are under 18. The average family size is six people.

Shawkat Hasan, vice-president of social services for the B.C. Muslim Association, which has been helping with the search for housing and the resettlement effort, said he met a family with 11 children, and families of seven to nine people are not uncommon.

“To have a big family in two bedrooms, it’s very difficult and it’s not healthy, so they have to have three bedrooms, and having three rooms available or more, it’s a challenge,” he said. “We managed to get one of the big families on a farm. The community in South Surrey/White Rock area offered a big house. They were very happy, they settled there.”

The majority of families have settled in Surrey and Coquitlam into units that have been offered by developers, including Concert Properties, which offered 17 two- and three-bedroom units in Coquitlam and Vancouver.

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