Calgarians are being asked to open their hearts, and their homes this spring for the expected influx of new Ukrainian evacuees fleeing renewed violence in that nation.
Every week, 450 people from that nation have been arriving in Calgary, and that number is only expected to grow over the next few weeks as flights resume to Canada from bordering nations, and more Ukrainians take advantage of time limited federal evacuation programs.
“Our waiting list is growing extra every day, and every day I got requests from Ukrainians directly to my inbox saying that we need temporary accommodation,” said Nataliia Shem, manager for housing for Ukrainian evacuees with the Centre for Newcomers.
“I’ve already started to get pre-arrivals for April, May and even June. So we do expect a lot of people still come in here in Calgary, and that’s why we keep asking people to open their doors.”
Kelly Ernst, Chief Programs Officer with the Centre for Newcomers said that in order to meet the demand that the centre is facing, they need at least 100 families in the city to temporarily provide housing spaces for those arriving.
He said that on their own waiting list, they have 270 families in need of temporary space.
“When you have 600 people—more than 600 people on a list and nowhere to house those people, that the future may be very bleak for housing,” Ernst said.
Families and individuals wishing to open their homes can contact the Centre for Newcomers at www.centrefornewcomers.ca/supportukraine.
Ernst said that as a result, some individuals have been staying at the airport until they are able to find shelter. Others have resorted to living rough on the streets or in homeless shelters.
“It puts stress on the whole shelter system, and it means more and more people are rough in the streets. So when people don’t come forward and act as a host home, it actually squeezes that pressure to the rest of the city,” he said.
The federal government has provided support for 75 hotel rooms for evacuees, but that number is too small to meet the demand, said Ernst.
“The stereotype is people are coming with accommodation, with resources to pay for those hotels, and very often they do not have those resources and they may be fleeing and not have any accommodation set up prior to fleeing,” he said.
“We’re over capacity. We’re working with two other hotels beyond the federal government hotels, and sending people to them, and we can only do that because we have some very generous private donors that are helping us do that—we’re actually over capacity on that as well.”
All that is needed is a bed
As part of the Centre for Newcomers' efforts to get Ukrainians settled into Canada, they have been supporting evacuees with paperwork, settlement assistance, job searches, and some financial support.
What the centre said is needed from homes is just a warm bed for people to stay in for a single month.
"They need one month of stay. It's an average time for when a family can find long-term rent, a job, and settle down here in Calgary—that's why we really need this," said Shem.
"From our side, we will do our best to help the settlement, with paperwork, and all of the other stuff so you don't need to worry about that."
Jeff Vosburgh, one of the many Calgarians who has already stepped up recently to open his home, was at the Centre on Wednesday to talk about his experience.
"It was really a very, very seamless process to apply, and it was it was actually really impressive to see the coordination and the amount of effort that was gone into housing families," he said.
"I only filled out the application form about a week before we got our family, and it was it was very painless, very easy."
Anastasiia, Varvara, and Dmytro Syrman were picked up at the airport on March 19 by the Vosburghs, after travelling to Canada from a winter stay in Poland.
Vosburgh said that so far it has been one of the most impactful, and meaningful things that his family has done together.
"As a lifelong Calgarian, it's not always easy making a life in Calgary, and to know what they've gone through back in Ukraine and then the daunting idea of having to rebuild a life in Calgary, is really, really challenging," he said.
"Something that I definitely want to instill in my son Jensen is that if you can help, just help. It makes a lot of difference... and we've been opening up to our friends to meet them as well, and it's become just a wonderful gathering point of activity."
Dmytro Syrman said that he came to Canada in order to make a safe life for 4-year-old Varvara, after Russian forces occupied their city.
"We can speak our native language, we can't speak in Ukrainian language because Russians—I don't know—hate Ukrainians."
"Russians don't like any people in Ukraine, and they're like get out, it's our land and we can live here. We wanted to leave for our daughter and we want to start a life there in Canada."