Nearly 1,000 British Columbians have offered housing for Syrian refugees

December 24, 2015

By Bethany Lindsay, Vancouver Sun |

They may be empty nesters whose houses are suddenly empty, or students with an extra bedroom in their basement suite. They come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common: they’ve offered to open their homes to Syrian refugees.

As of Dec. 3, 949 people and businesses in 51 B.C. communities had offered to provide permanent housing for government-assisted Syrian refugees, according to the latest numbers from the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. That includes 667 offers in Metro Vancouver and 62 in the Fraser Valley.

“Opening up your home to a stranger is a pretty amazing offer of help,” said Chris Friesen, settlement services director with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

“This type of generosity has been unheard of, by us anyway, over the last two decades.”

To qualify as permanent housing, homeowners must agree to a minimum three-month commitment, but Friesen said there have been offers of up to a full year. Many people have also said they’re not interested in taking any payment from the new arrivals, who will receive income support at the very modest provincial welfare rates for their first year here.

And strikingly, while a range of apartments and houses are being made available, half of the offers are for rooms in people’s homes.

“It’s quite extraordinary to think that people would go to that extent of offering up their privacy … and having strangers live in their home,” Friesen said.

Another notable trend is the generosity of Vancouver residents. Thirty per cent of the housing offers in Metro are from Vancouver, compared to 16 per cent from Surrey and nine per cent from North Vancouver.

That’s in stark contrast to the last five years, during which Surrey was the top destination for government-assisted refugees, followed by Coquitlam, Burnaby, New Westminster and Vancouver.

There’s no way to tell if the final settlement pattern for these refugees will reflect the current offers, but Friesen pointed out that there could be a big impact on planning for social services across the region.

“Suddenly Vancouver, where everybody is trying to close down schools, may have a number of additional students that they had not thought about,” he said.

He also acknowledged that it might be a challenge for refugees to find housing in pricey Vancouver once their three-month term is up.

“This is a huge social experiment,” he said. “I can’t begin to write the conclusion of this.”

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