Vancouver opens long-awaited immigrant support centre

Photo: Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia 

“The very first thing that I personally struggled with was that I didn’t know anyone here. No relatives, no friends, basically no one to have connection with,” said Zahra Samimi, an Afghan refugee who immigrated to Canada in 2013.

Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia (ISSofBC) ended the June 25 grand opening ceremony of its new Welcome Centre facility with stories from new Canadians who had recently immigrated to Canada with the help of ISSofBC.

Samimi explained that when she first moved to Canada, ISSofBC helped her establish Canada as her home. Samini was able to become familiar with Canada, Vancouver and North American culture in general by engaging in English language classes, social groups and local fieldtrips offered by ISSofBC.

ISSofBC plans to use its new facility to continue its mission of helping immigrants and refugees settle into Canada. They intend to make the transition into Canadian culture easier by helping them find jobs, housing and education.

“Vancouver has a longstanding commitment to welcoming refugees in times of need and the City is honoured to have contributed to the project. The welcome centre is an innovative response to meeting the needs of our newest residents and helping them foster a strong sense of belonging and build a future in our city,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a press release.

The City of Vancouver provided both financial and political support for the centre. The city sold ISSofBC a 60-year ground lease and service agreement valued at $34 million for $10.

The new welcome facility located in Vancouver’s east side is a multipurpose building aimed at helping immigrants and refugees transition into Canada.

The building is outfitted with 18 housing units and up to 138 beds.

Residents and others from the Canadian immigrant community will have also have access to a primary health clinic, an employment resource centre, financial support and a free law clinic.

The welcome centre is also outfitted with a community kitchen as well as a food bank and a second-hand clothing room.

The welcome centre is also taking steps to be more green, with urban rooftop gardening plots and a gold-certified building from the Canadian Green Building Council.

The ISSofBC centre will also have facilities and programs geared towards children with a youth drop-in centre as well as playgrounds and preschool-like learning spaces.

“Canada is a nation built on immigration. With the opening of this Welcome Centre in Vancouver, newcomers will have streamlined access to temporary housing an on-site services from government, community organizations, public and private institutions and programs,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a press release.