Since 1998, Kinbrace, British Columbia’s first dedicated refugee claimants housing, has been providing affordable transitional housing to over 400 refugees. According to the organization, many of these newcomers from all around the world start their new life in Canada with meagre to no resources, and often struggle with the harsh realities of poverty, isolation and displacement.
A welcoming new home
Located in the east side of Vancouver, Kinbrace comprises two buildings that stand side by side, totalling nine apartment units, a small office space and an open living room-kitchen that serves as a gathering place. The apartment units are modest, but provide a bed, personal closet space, a kitchenette with a small fridge, a sink and a hot-plate stove. A couple of units, mainly for families, have private bathrooms, and there is a shared bathroom for the single bedroom units. The residents spend up to three months here while they find more permanent shelter.
But Kinbrace is more than just a clean shelter – the staff and residents pitch in to prepare delicious meals each day while the children run around playing and speaking in broken English together. A glance at the large, prominently displayed cork-board shows the scheduled activities of the month, which include ESL classes, a homework club and future gatherings. Loren Balisky, co-founder and live-in director, explains that Kinbrace focuses on connecting its residents and the community.
“Kinbrace is guided by five values: Welcome, Trust, Mutual Transformation, Celebration and Prayer,” says Balisky.
What’s more, the dedicated staff and volunteers are involved in helping these refugee claimants with the paperwork for their claims, training for or finding future employment and locating permanent shelter. Kinbrace has also implemented a Navigating Refugee Reform Workshop, produced a Refugee Hearing Preparation guide that has been translated into multiple languages, and initiated READY Tours. The READY Tours allow a refugee claimant to visit one of the hearing rooms of the Immigration and Refugee Board, ask questions about the hearing process and learn what to expect on the day of their own hearing. Kinbrace takes aim at this last step in the claimants’ arduous journeys to reach Canada, to make integrating into Canadian life less of a struggle.
“We hope to move [the refugees] from the spirit of exile to one of integration and acceptance,” says Balisky.
Celebrating new community
After about three months, Kinbrace residents will move on. However, the staff follows up with them for a year and they are always invited to share in weekly Tuesday night dinners and other celebrations. Linda (not her real name), is a former resident and a new first time single mother to a six-month-old baby. Linda found the preparation process offered at Kinbrace for her hearing to be particularly helpful. But what she valued most was the interaction with her Kinbrace housemates during the time she resided there.
“It was nice just to have someone say ‘hi’ when I see them,” Linda says.
Linda had felt scared and alone some of those times, so she appreciated the camaraderie. Although she has moved out, she continues to be friends with her former housemates who visit her and help with her new baby; besides them, she has few close contacts and no family in Canada. Nowadays, when she goes back to Kinbrace to visit, she says she feels less like a client and more like a friend.
The inhabitants have many personal stories of grief, terror and losses, which they share, but above all, Balisky says they find every reason to celebrate here. Simply being together and enjoying the company of such vast cultures, in a safe home, may be reason enough to celebrate.
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