‘He may have slept on the streets’: Ukrainian refugees facing housing crisis

'He may have slept on the streets': Ukrainian refugees facing housing crisis

Help Ukraine Vancouver Island (HUVI) says it’s struggling to find stable housing for incoming Ukrainian refugees and it’s seeing an influx of people as the deadline for a federal visa program is set to expire.

“We have gotten to a point where we don’t know where to put these people,” says HUVI General Manager, Karmen McNamara.

In the last few weeks, the volunteer group says the average number of people they’re accommodating has risen more than four times its usually amount.

“Between August and the end of December, we were averaging 10 people per week on Vancouver Island and we are now averaging 40, and that number is going to keep going up,” said McNamara.

According to their website, HUVI has helped more than 800 incoming refugees settle on Vancouver Island, but a looming deadline is worrying the group as an influx of Ukrainians quickly arrives in Canada.

“Last night was the first time that I don’t know where this gentleman went but he may have slept on the streets and I don’t know what to do to help them,” said McNamara.

The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) is set to expire on March 31, which fast-tracked visa permits for refugees. The organization says the deadline is forcing people to act out of desperation and travel to Canada without any prior arrangements.

On many occasions, the organization says people are spending their last dollars on plane tickets to Canada and arriving without any documents.

Ukrainians who arrive under CUAET are able to apply for a one-time payment of $3,000 per adult, and $1,500 per child. HUVI says a lack of housing only further delays payments since some people don’t have a fixed address.

“Between your first paycheque and your arrival to Canada, there is a time gap between three to five weeks that you’re suppose to support yourself somehow and sometimes your family,” said Anna  Saldyga, a volunteer with the organization.

CHEK News has reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on whether the program will be renewed.

McNamara estimates between 20 to 50 people do not have stable housing at the moment. At least ten of those are unaccompanied minors.

“It becomes even more urgent when we’re dealing with a minor that we need to find a safe and stable place for these people to go,” said McNamara.

At the moment, HUVI has an 18-year old unaccompanied minor who only has temporary housing until Feb. 21, and the group says its struggling to find a replacement. The Ministry of Children and Family Development has been in contact with the organization.

CHEK News has reached out to the Ministry for more information around the number of unaccompanied minors from Ukraine.

“He’s alone, he’s willing to find a job, he says he did jobs like 24 hours a day,” said Volunteer Zhanna Kolesnyk.

Help Ukraine V.I. is still planning on hosting a candlelight vigil outside the B.C. Legislature on Feb 24 in honour of the one-year mark of the start of the war.

HUVI is pleading for the public to donate funds to support temporary housing for incoming refugees. They’re also asking for more people to become hosts for Ukrainians. If you’re able to help, please visit their website at https://ukrainehelpvi.ca/hosting-program-eligibility/

Oli HerreraOli Herrera

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