“I was making $1500 bi-weekly and could not afford to live after paying rent. The transitional housing was a turning point. I paid half for rent, half to live, and even managed to save enough to get a car and a driver’s licence. The relief let me focus on my job search and pursue opportunities related to my field of study. Now I am working as a microbiologist in a leading pharmaceutical company. I came to Canada for a better life, and I am happy to be serving Canadian people.”
What is it like to arrive in Canada as a refugee from a war-torn country without a word of English? Or even come here with solid English skills and a medical degree that isn’t recognized here, with no money to pay for or last through the conversion training and testing it takes to get your credentials recognized?
Settlement agencies across Canada work to serve the 300,000 immigrants and refugees who come to Canada each year by providing access to orientation, information, employment supports, and social programs. A small number of people may need extra supports during their settlement process, and locally Halton Multicultural Council’s HMC Connections is here to help.
Most only need a light touch, but some need more than that. Some need language support, and some need housing. Many need financial support in the early days. Even those who come with cash quickly deplete their savings. Getting their first job in Canada can be very challenging: they can’t acquire Canadian experience without Canadian experience; it is a frustrating Catch-22. Paying rent consumes money, and, in Halton, newcomers quickly realize they won’t be able to get work without a car, for many an unexpected expense.
Immigrants make tremendous economic and social contributions to Canada, but the transition is far from easy for some. HMC owns seven transitional housing units and rents two more from Habitat for Humanity. The housing affordability crisis in the GTA is difficult for many with income security issues. It can present a difficult challenge for newcomers who do not have a local credit history or relatives to help them.
Financial stress is not the only hardship newcomers face. Culture shock can be a common theme as children start attending school and find that some Canadian customs conflict with their family’s values. Many refugees are escaping from trauma and experience PTSD without family and other support systems. Early life in Canada can be confusing and complicated. HMC provides information on community services and resources that can support the families in these early stages.
The United Way supports a constellation of social services that support the social safety net, ensuring a healthy community. By supporting agencies like HMC and complementary agencies, like the Halton Equity and Diversity Roundtable and HIPPY Halton, the United Way ensures collaboration and guards against duplication and overlap. United Way also uses its connections in the community to support local agencies, especially throughout the difficult times of the pandemic.
“The United Way really went out of their way to bring the Executive Directors of the many agencies together to help us all deal with these new stressors,” says Kim Jenkinson, ED of Halton Multicultural Council. “We have funding from Immigration and Refugee Citizenship Canada, but the United Way funds the crisis function: they support a full-time crisis worker. That means we have someone to help people needing crisis supports to deal with income supports, legal issues, the Children’s Aid Society, and to help newcomers navigate the Canadian social systems.”
HMC’s role is to facilitate the transition, providing information and guidance through job search support, language training, social connection and credentialling: helping immigrants connect with employment in their fields. Specialty programs for highly skilled foreign-trained professionals provide stipends to employers such as pharmaceutical companies, research companies, pharmacies and schools to hire qualified newcomer professionals.
HMC provides language classes to teach English. “I learn practical English and I participate in real-life activities. Our teacher organized trips to Toronto, Parliament of Ontario, CN tower, public library, local restaurant and grocery stores. We travelled by train, subways and cars. We spoke to native speakers of English, we met the MPPs, and we practised and practised our communication skills. I am always so excited to attend this class,” says one Syrian refugee who arrived without any English at all.
Nearly 3,000 Oakvilleans use Halton Multicultural Council services annually, delivered by 70 dedicated HMC employees. Canada is dealing with an aging population with longer life spans and a low birth rate – we will be relying on immigration to balance our population. In a world where migration as a result of failed states, violent conflict, and climate change is increasing, the countries that successfully integrate newcomers will be those that prosper into the future. Your United Way donations can help provide a hand-up to ease the process of settling in Canada so that newcomers can go on to prosper and contribute.
Many of us have charities we support for personal reasons. However, there is a wide variety of needs in our community. The United Way goes to great lengths to identify these needs and find and assist vital agencies with good processes to address them. United Way funds mean these agencies can spend more of their resources helping Oakville residents and less of them looking for money. As donors, we can’t know the best way to spread our donations around, but donations of all sizes from many Oakvilleans can be turned to their best effect through the United Way. And who knows when we, or someone close to us, will need help from one of these services. Our donations to the United Way ensure they will all be there for us if that day comes.