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Host Perspective: What I have learnt over the past three weeks

This blog contains the unedited posts of Ukrainians who successfully moved to Victoria, BC, and/or their hosts. Content posted with permission. For privacy we are keeping them anonymous. The opinions expressed in the blog are those of the author and are neither supported nor endorsed by the moderators of this website.

I realize now how naive I was at the start of this process and now can provide more information than I was able to at our initial meeting. Our Ukrainian family arrived May 2nd and have been with us for almost 3 weeks. They are a lovely family and have a twelve-year-old daughter. The parents are extremely motivated to find jobs and improve their English and we quickly realized that hosting a family without access to public transport is very difficult. The support services are spread all over the city and many require appointments at specific times. Reluctantly we realized we needed to find them another host family closer to the bus system and today they are moving to a new family.

This is what I have learnt over the past three weeks:

  • The CUAET program is offered to all Ukrainians and immediate family members, regardless of where they were living at the time the war broke out.
  • Although it is described as a program for Emergency Travel due to the war and not an immigration stream program, it also offers the ability to apply for immigration once they arrive in Canada if they are eligible.
  • Many families arriving in Canada are planning on becoming permanent residents.
  • Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are supposed to stay in Ukraine to help fight the war but there are many exceptions. Examples include if they were already out of the country, if they are disabled, if they are a single parent, or if they have three or more children.
  • The federal program offers a three-year work permit and immediate access to health care. Although there are rumours of financial support to the newcomers there is no official support currently. They are not coming in as refugees, so they are not given access to many of the refugee programs.
  • The provincial governments have been left to deal with many of the programs including health care, education, and settlement services. Every province has different services available, and some are providing some financial support directly to newcomers (Ontario as an example).
  • The actual hosting and initial support of the newcomers has been left to regular Canadians who are offering a wide range of accommodations, food, offers of jobs, and other services. There is no financial aid for Canadians offering to help
  • Ukrainians can find Canadian hosts independently on any of the many websites set up, or they can work through volunteer organizations such as Help Ukraine Vancouver Island. Most people hosting or coming to Victoria are using the helpukrainevi website. The advantages of using an organization are safety, reliability and community resource availability.
  • We are short of hosts in the Victoria area and the local organizations are beginning to prioritize those newcomers they can help. They are focusing on single parents, the disabled and those that were living in Ukraine in January 2022.
  • If you apply to be a host through HelpUkraineVI you will go through a criminal check and driver licence check at no cost. You will be asked to commit to 3 months of shelter and food. You are not asked to provide other living expenses. You will have an opportunity to accept or decline a match and there will be a brief home visit.
  • Your experience with hosting will vary significantly depending on who you are matched with. Many of the young couples with children speak English well, have already navigated through the programs, and may be able to do all the paperwork/applications/ job searches themselves. If you are hosting Ukrainians who do not speak English well, you should expect to spend a significant amount of time helping them get settled in. Most of the programs require reasonable computer skills and usually are done in English. Other programs need to be done in person, so be ready to commit to driving and helping to guide them through the process.
  • Jobs are a priority for many of the newcomers. If they are planning on applying for permanent residency, they will want a full-time job as soon as possible. The support provided by ICA and Work BC is there but requires a rather lengthy process to get registered, assessed and receive support. Translators are in short supply throughout the programs. You may find as a host that you end up helping them extensively, especially if they don’t speak English well.
  • In order to work transport is essential. Please don’t make the mistake we made in offering to host when we have no public transport available. Even the school bus isn’t a good option – it is a 2 km walk along a road with no shoulders. Despite many offers to help from Highlanders, we found trying to arrange rides from volunteers was just too awkward and unreliable for our guests.
  • CUAET works best for young families that speak English and are educated, while the very vulnerable will struggle with this program. A work permit is of no use to the elderly or young mothers with small children who can’t find affordable day care. As hosts we have asked what happens when the three months of hosting is finished, and the newcomers still don’t have a job or a place to live or any financial support. The answer was “We don’t know”.
  • The volunteers at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Victoria are amazing. They are working incredibly hard to try to help all the Ukrainians coming to Victoria, but they have a small budget and a small number of volunteers. They are quick to offer help and answer questions, but there are only so many of them and the numbers of Ukrainians coming to Victoria keeps increasing.
  • As families arrive, the logistics become easier, and hosts can help each other with the initial settling in period.
  • If you have the space and transport available, I encourage you to become a host, but make sure you have time and patience to wade through the government red tape if language is a challenge.
  • In summary the need is immense, the people are wonderful and the support from local volunteers is heartwarming. The work and time required for the first few weeks is substantial if your guests do not have a reasonable level of English and computer skills and access are needed. The Highlands is likely not an optimal place due to our lack of public transport so be aware if you decide to host.

What can people do if they can’t host a family? Volunteers are always needed through the HelpUkraineVI website – they are often looking for ambassadors who can help a host family with occasional driving, childcare, translation, job searches etc. Every couple weeks they have a pop-up service day where newcomers can come to get SIN numbers, register with Service Canada, and learn about ICBC and exchanging driver’s licence. Once you learn the rules it is easier to help the newcomers.

DW, Vancouver Island