New refugee centre opens its doors in Vancouver

June 4, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

Refugees arriving in Vancouver will spend their first weeks in a one-of-a-kind facility that brings many of the services they need under one roof when the new Welcome House opens its doors next week.

Within hours of stepping off a plane in Vancouver, a refugee whose last home was a camp in a conflict zone could stand on a patio looking out at the downtown Vancouver skyline and mountains to the northwest, the Metrotown skyscrapers to the southeast and the bicycles and pedestrians navigating the busy intersection of Victoria Drive and East 10th Avenue below, as the SkyTrain glides by in the foreground. For many, this will be the defining first glimpse of the city they will call home.

Outside the building on Friday, men are planting and digging in the front gardens and it smells like fertilizer. The main entrance has words for “welcome” in 18 languages embedded in steel in the concrete foyer.

Inside, it smells like fresh paint and workers are putting the finishing touches on doors, dormitories and classrooms.

For Chris Friesen, settlement services director for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., getting the occupancy permit for the $24-million facility on Monday from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was the culmination of a five-year dream: to create a state-of-the-art facility that would bring many of the services newcomers need when they first arrive under one roof.

“This is unique … this will help to redefine a new international model for refugee integration,” he said.

The facility includes:

  • Accommodation for up to 138 refugees, from single people to families of up to 16;
  • English language classes for both refugee and non-refugee immigrants;
  • A preschool allowing parents to attend English classes;
  • Vancity staff on-site to help refugees open their first bank account;
  • A health centre;
  • Trauma counselling;
  • Multilingual settlement support workers;
  • A youth drop-in centre.

There will also be support services and housing available for refugee claimants who have arrived in Canada and asked for asylum, Friesen said. The central location, close the Broadway and Commercial transit hub, will allow immigrants living throughout the region to easily reach the centre.

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