Homelessness among newcomer families

By: Alisa Samuel

Published on July 28 2022

Photo: Arian Malek khosravi (Unsplash)

Imagine a married refugee couple from, let’s say, the Middle East. The couple lands in Toronto with their young children. An immigration official told them that they couldn’t carry a lot of money when they got here. They don’t have any relatives or friends who would welcome and support them in Canada. Out on the city streets, their only hope becomes a stranger who takes them to a shelter when they ask, “Where can we go?” 

In a recent study, Cheryl Forchuk, a university professor at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, explored the lives of homeless immigrant and refugee families with children. Forchuk and her team interviewed a group of 11 Arabic immigrant families staying at a family shelter in an unidentified major Ontario city. The researchers found that there are four main reasons why the families fell into homelessness: 1) being uninformed about the system, 2) difficult life situations, 3) social conflict, and 4) moving to escape harsh conditions.

Here are some articles by The Newcomer that can help you improve your chances of finding stable housing in Canada: 

Tenant Rights in Canada

Many people, especially immigrants, have high standards for Canadian living. One participant in the study dreamt of finding “a big house with two bathrooms” when they first came to Canada. But the participant soon realized they couldn’t even get an apartment because of the country’s expensive housing markets. The researchers suggest that newcomers can avoid homelessness by first understanding the responsibilities common to Canadian home renters. 

Validating international credits

Some of the study participants were professionally skilled and well-educated but didn’t have the required level of Canadian schooling to meet job requirements. They couldn’t study in Canada to equalize their certificates for better employment opportunities. To study, they would need student loans. Student loans are not usually available to non-permanent residents. 

Financial assistance from the government wasn’t always enough. Ontario Works, for example, benefits people who can’t find work, but money from the program doesn’t match family size and current housing rates. One participant explained: “All I have from Ontario Works was $700 and the least rent was $1200, plus utilities it would be $1500.”

(Not so) Welcome to Canada!: The challenges of Canadian newcomers

Canada is made up of people from around the world. Canadian multiculturalism, however, doesn’t mean that newcomers will always be treated well. Not everyone born here is going to have knowledge about different cultural backgrounds. Not all shelter workers are going to be sensitive to the needs of the people they claim to serve. According to a 2020 report from Statistics Canada, race-based discrimination increased against minority groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. Minority groups experienced more harassment in their own neighbourhoods. 

Coping with stress in Canada

Some immigrant parents complained in their interviews about the difficulties their children were having at school. They faced bullying. When one parent complained to the principal of her son’s school, the principal told her to “go complain somewhere else.” New immigrant parents will move from their communities of residence to protect their children from such situations. In search of a better place, the families might end up in shelters. Some of the participants desperately immigrated to Canada for their own safety. Some of their home countries, like Sudan, are full of political and civil unrest. But life in Canada for newcomers, as research tells us, has its own unique social and economic challenges. Be prepared. It takes some time and determination to put down roots. 

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