After fleeing war in their home country, Ukrainian refugees are arriving in Canada with limited government support, and many find themselves struggling to find jobs and places to live.
"The need for housing for Ukrainian refugees continues to grow," says Stephane Goertz, who began the Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to the Ukrainian Crisis in March.
“The biggest need is to find more host families. We need more people to come forward. It can be a life changing experience to help displaced Ukrainians who are in need of support.”
With over 250 volunteers, the Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to Ukrainian Crisis helps bridge the gap between government assisted programs and the grassroots community.
The organization consists of a group of residents who prepare, support, and offer resources to those displaced and are fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
Once families arrive, volunteers provide donations of clothes, school supplies and hygiene kits.
But right now, Goertz says, the biggest challenge for Ukrainian refugees, is finding housing.
“It’s a conundrum because with the federal government opening up the new application process for displaced Ukrainians coming into Canada, this means that many are arriving with absolutely no housing set up,” Goertz says.
Currently, Goertz says, people are booking flights and arriving in Canada, not sure of what to expect.
“They hear about groups such as ours and they hear that the federal government will support them, but when they come, they are struggling to find a place to live,” Goertz says.
The federal government does provide some financial support at the very onset of their arrival, but this is limited.
“There’s only so much you can do with a couple thousand dollars when looking for housing,” Goertz says.
“Waterloo region, however, is known as one of the settlement locations where we have many services available. We continue to look at ways to utilize all or our settlement services such as the KW Cultural Centre or the YMCA.”
But Goertz says, everyone knows that there are few housing options available across the region.
“Even if Ukrainian families had the available money in their pocket for a rental unit, there just isn’t anything available,” Goertz says.
“So, we are looking for hosts, people who are willing to open their doors to Ukrainian families needing assistance. Some might only be there for a month, some might need a bit longer.”
The Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to Ukrainian Crisis currently has 85 hosts that it supports across the region. In Cambridge there are over 12 hosts helping displaced Ukrainian families.
“Many of them are mothers with children who have left their husbands behind, and some are seniors. We want people to know, that this flow of people is not stopping. It’s only going to increase,” Goertz says.
Goertz says, every single day, more applications come in. Since Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to Ukrainian Crisis began in March, it has received over 700 applications.
“But it’s so complex, because if refugees do find housing, they then have to find employment, but they don’t have a car. And then they have to think about childcare.”
That is also why, Goertz says, there is a such a big need for hosts right now.
“We really need help to support them. As an organization, we stay in touch with our hosts and offer supports along with the KW Cultural Society. We connect them and then we stay in touch,” Goertz says.
Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to Ukrainian Crisis says people can help by hosting for a little bit, or longer, and while they are at it, they can make friends for life, knowing that they are making a difference.
“A number of our hosts have already hosted two or three times because some of the people they have helped, have left. Many of them have found the experience so rewarding, and so, they want to continue to open up their homes,” Goertz says.
“Many of them never thought they would do something like this. Just knowing that they are helping change the life for these people is so rewarding."
Hosts can learn a new culture, connect, and new friendships can form.
“Many hosts want to help because they see the actual results and benefits of what they contribute,” Goertz says.
“They feel it. They know that what they are doing is actively changing someone’s life.”
For more information about hosting Ukrainian refugees, visit the Waterloo Region Grassroots Response to Ukrainian Crisis here.