What does it take to feel rooted in a new place? What makes a place feel like home? These are questions we wrestle with as we walk alongside refugee claimants who have come through the doors of Micah House. Micah House provides short-term housing and settlement assistance for refugee claimants who come to Hamilton.
Juan and Gloria* and their two sons arrived in November 2010 after fleeing unrest and violence in their home country of Columbia. They left everything and embarked on a journey to safety that brought them here to Hamilton. They stayed at Micah House for their first 2 months, which was long enough to get all their legal processes done and begin to get acculturated to their new culture and climate. Now, eight months later, how are they doing?
They have found a great little apartment on the mountain. The rent eats up most of their monthly income but it’s in a great location, has adequate space, and is close to a park where they love to take their toddler to play. Through the kindness and generosity of volunteers, they have been able to furnish it in a way that is comfortable and welcoming.
It takes time to build significant friendships but Juan and Gloria say they have not felt alone since they arrived in Hamilton. They enjoy the fact that they now have friends from all around the world thanks to their ESL class. They have appreciated the support they have received from their “Global Friend” (a volunteer who provides support for past guests settling in the community) and other volunteers. Particularly encouraging, is knowing that their 15-year-old son is feeling connected at his high school. After only a short time in a Canadian school, he did excellent on the Education Quality and Accountability Office exam (province-wide testing) and has made some good friends.
When you start chatting with Juan it doesn’t take long for him to talk about his desire to be working in his field of expertise, computer software. He has explored many options for employment but so far there have been no job offers. It has been discouraging. Although they love living in Hamilton they wonder if they will have to leave in order to find employment.
What does it take to make Hamilton home? According to past Micah House guests 3 of the most important ingredients are: suitable housing, supportive friendships, and meaningful work. Juan and Gloria have two out of three. Meaningful work still escapes them. That is true for the majority of refugee claimants in our city.
This needs to change so that families like Juan and Gloria’s can truly make Hamilton their home. The people who stay at Micah House are not just refugee claimants – they are architects, civil engineers, artists, social workers, lawyers, nurses and opera singers. Everyone in our city will benefit when they are able to use their skills and training in meaningful ways.
– By Alison Witt, Micah House | Photo by Michelle Drew