Vital People: Helping newcomers find belonging and community

Vital People: Helping newcomers find belonging and community

English as a second language classes are among the many services the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria offers newcomers.

“Last month, we helped 800 newcomers that came into the Greater Victoria area — they’re refugees, immigrants and also Ukrainian displaced people, says Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria interim CEO Winnie Lee. “It’s helping them one step at a time, embracing their new community and integrating into their new community.”

And a big part of that, through classes and settlement services, is helping people find a sense of belonging.

“We really build community and newcomers, just like anyone else, need community,” Winnie says. “One of our priorities is to ensure that there’s social connectedness, opportunities to connect, especially with newcomers coming in they have basically left their whole family and community connections behind.”

Community — and what it means to each of us — was the theme of this year’s Vital Signs report by the Victoria Foundation.

“It was a springboard off last year’s Vital Signs, where the theme was centred around equity and inclusion, and we heard from that that there was a lot of work to do and we wanted to drill down into the issues,” says Matthew Williams of the  Victoria Foundation.

Issues like hate crimes — which have increased in the last five years — and discrimination.

“A number of clients would report to us discrimination, micro-aggressions and outright racism,” Winnie says. “We do experience that with landlords not even wanting to entertain the idea of a refugee family looking at their unit.”

For the first time in Vital Signs history in Victoria, housing received an F letter grade.

A severe shortage of affordable housing has made it even harder for newcomers to find their footing, but thanks to the support of the Inter-Cultural Association, they’re navigating a challenging situation.

As for community — while the Vital Signs survey found it can mean different things to different people — at its core it’s all about connection and belonging.

“It really connects all of us,” Winnie says. “It connects us to a greater society, that we’re not alone, I think isolation is a huge barrier and a lot of our newcomers do face that because of language barriers, cultural barriers.”

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