A number of Newmarket residents have already opened their homes to Ukrainian newcomers and York Region held a public information session for anyone else who is considering doing the same thing.
The webinar on May 26 was geared towards potential host families and Ukrainian newcomers, with information about the hosting process, what local services are available, and how to access them.
The conversation was moderated by Lisa Alfieri Sladen from York Region who said “The information we have available continues to change everyday."
There are federal and provincial programs that have been put in place, including the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program. So far there have been more than 200,000 applications to this program, about 100,000 have been approved, and 30,000 people have arrived across Canada.
COSTI Immigrant Services launched a volunteer housing assistance program in April and already has 250 host families throughout the GTA, including York Region.
Yasmine Dossal, director of social services, explained how the housing program works. Host families can volunteer with the organization to provide their home for free to newcomers from Ukraine.
“The objective of our program is basically to match newcomer Ukrainians with vetted hosts for accommodation," she said.
As part of the process, prospective host families are interviewed and a site visit is conducted. COSTI speaks with the family about what they are able to offer in terms of space, meals, time frame, transportation or other support. Hosts must also submit a vulnerable sector check.
On the other end, newcomers are made aware of the COSTI program through the organizations partnerships with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Red Cross. They can connect with COSTI on arrival or ahead of time.
“We have been getting a lot of emails from overseas,” Dossal said.
Once a host family is matched with a newcomer family they sign an accomodation agreement, written in both English and Ukrainian, that outlines the roles of the host and guest, the time frame of the stay, any clauses, and a waiver.
“Also the agreement mentions that they cannot take advantage of the host,” Dossal said, adding that guests can't take advantage of the host for babysitting, dog-walking, or anything like that just because they are providing accommodations.
Once the newcomers have settled in, she said, they do regular check-ins "just to make sure the host is comfortable with the guest and they have no issues and the guest is comfortable with the home and they have no issues.”
Anyone who is interested in becoming a host through the COSTI program can email [email protected].
There are further supports for newcomers once they have arrived offered by Welcome Centre Immigrant Services, which has five locations throughout York Region, including one in Newmarket.
The locations are meant to be easily accessible by car or public transit and act as a one stop shop for newcomers to take advantage of a number of different services, said Tim McLinden.
“The services that we do provide at the welcome centre are all free of charge to all of our registered clients. Our professional staff can assist newcomers with a wide range of key services to help get settled in Canada,” he said.
Those services include help getting settled, job hunting, learning English, accreditation and qualification help, and services for youth, women, seniors, and people with special needs. The centre also offers some social and cultural programming to help clients feel more at home.
For anyone wanting to learn more and make use of the Welcome Centre's services, McLinden said the easiest way to get in touch is through the website.
Rev. Andriy from the Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Richmond Hill also took part in the webinar and spoke about what the church has been doing to help newcomers.
“Pretty often we become the point of first approach to lots of people,” he said.
He said they are happy to provide advice and point people in the right direction. The church also has started a donation program to provide items for newcomers in need. The program is done by request only.
Anyone who is eager to help out or looking for more information about local supports for Ukraine is encouraged to check out York Region's webpage, which also includes a newcomer guide in a variety of languages. A recording of the webinar will be available on this page in the future as well as Q&As from the session.