Kerr Street Mission pitches in for refugees


Groups across the GTA are prepping to aid the 25 Syrian families that will begin news lives here.

Whether it be putting food on the table, finding a house or job, or even just opening a bank account, groups like Kerr Street Mission are ready and waiting to help.

The Oakville-based charity organization has helped 10 refugee families since June, including one from Syria.

“One family was sponsored and their sponsor lost their job, so they ended up homeless,” said Gary O’Neill, executive director at Kerr Street Mission. “We were able to get the Halton Region to give some funding to get them through a few days, and were able to connect them with an employment service.”

They also helped the family find an apartment they could afford outside of Oakville. That family is now able to pay the rent on their own.

Basic things like loans and rental agreements could be difficult or confusing for Syrians seeking refuge in the country.

Kerr Street Mission offers a food bank, community meals, after-school care, youth mentoring and development, financial counselling and more. All of which will be available to any new Syrian families in the Oakville area.

“Our hope really is to help people get to a spot where they don’t need help anymore,” said O’Neill. “Get them to the place where they’re healthier. All-around healthier.”

O’Neill said that it’s important to help Syrian refugees because, regardless of where they’re from, they’re like anyone else in need.

“Whether it’s a family that lives here in distress, or a family that’s new to the country, regardless of the situation if people show up here we’ll help them with practical care and connect them into services,” said O’Neill.

The Halton Multicultural Council plays a large role in helping refugees come to the area. It leads sponsorship meetings to ensure sponsors know what to do, meet with local Syrian families to better understand how to help them and recruit volunteers that speak Arabic to make working with refugees easier.

Kim Jenkinson, executive director of Halton Multicultural Council, says that the refugee efforts need to be coordinated in the community.

“Local sponsoring groups can also benefit from sharing resources,” she says. “It will benefit everyone to work together.”

O’Neill said that while Kerr Street Mission is prepared to help as many refugees it can, the best outcome would be for these families to be integrated well enough that they don’t need help.

“If the people that are sponsoring need help to find resources, we’ll help them,” he said. “I hope that we don’t need to help any of them because the private sponsorship they have works.”

Due to experiences in his personal life O’Neill feels compelled to help people in his community.

“My dad had a very successful business and things kind of took a left turn,” he said. “We went through a period of time where as a family we went from having everything and more to having very little to nothing.”

O’Neill says that the sponsoring cost for a family of five is around $32,000. In comparison, the low-income threshold for a family of four was $41,568 in 2012.

Citing the high cost of living in the area, Jenkinson questions whether that will be enough money.

“I do not believe you can support a family of five here on $32,000,” she said. “The sponsoring groups are very resourceful and are looking for donations to help ease the costs – but whether it is donated in cash or in kind, a family could not easily live on $32,000.   Especially when they are essentially coming with nothing.”

The money is believed to be enough to get the families started, but beyond that they might need help from groups like Kerr Street Mission.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, 10,000 of whom will be arriving this year.

It was originally thought that some of those government-assisted refugees would be coming to Oakville, but at a round-table meeting last week it was announced that none will come to the town through official channels.

Many families will still arrive in the town, but it will be through private sponsorships.

“I think they’re hoping to have 60 families in total, but right now we only have sponsors for 25,” said O’Neill.

The first few families will arrive in the next couple of weeks, with the rest of the 25 arriving by April.

If you would like to know more on this topic, Sheridan Sun reporter Ross Andersen has made a map to plot out where the refugees will be placed.

Syrian refugees come to Ontario


<div class=”storify”><iframe src=”//” width=”100%” height=”750″ frameborder=”no” allowtransparency=”true”></iframe><script src=”//”></script><noscript>[<a href=”//” target=”_blank”>View the story “Trudeau’s refugee plans have hit a snag, but will continue” on Storify</a>]</noscript></div>