Monday, 21 March 2011

Coming to Canada to find a better life. Then losing it.

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I was sad to hear about the stabbing death of Abdul Rahim Mah Jemei last week.

I've known his mother for a couple of years. The family came to Canada five or six years ago. Originally from Eritrea, they came via Sudan as refugees. Fleeing a couple of war-torn countries to seek out a better life for their children.

Sadly one of their children, 22 year-old Jamei, was stabbed to death beside the Y on Vaughan Street last Wednesday
. Police think it was an unprovoked attack and the teen suspect they have in custody is apparently known to them.

In a Free Press article about how the African community has come together to support the family Lambros Kyriakakos, president of the Eritrean Community in Winnipeg, said that 'homicide highlights the vulnerability of youth who are newcomers to Canada'.

Very true.

And this brings me to an aside ...

I don't know all the details of the stabbing so I don't direct this towards Jamai or his family's situation but something I have wondered about is how we have used immigrant and refugee housing as a way to get people living in areas that most Winnipeggers wouldn't.

Sometimes it's the bleak-ish, old semi industrial parts of the core like (like IRCOM House on Ellen). sometimes it's places
like Central Park, home to a lot of Canadian born and bred gangs and criminal activity. The mainly African influx has began turning that neighbourhood around but for many years things were rough and as a result came African-based youth gangs. We live with the legacy of the assumption that an African youth in the Central Park area simply must have some sort of gang involvement which, of course, is not true.

The latest announcement of a refugee and immigrant housing complex is for 271 - 273 Princess, the 'Peace Tower', that will be built a couple of blocks from the core's triangle of homeless shelters.

It is a great way to get people settled. The land is cheap and you don't have to worry about a fuss from the neighbours. Still, perhaps it would be nice to mix things up a bit and put housing in different areas of the city rather than dropping refugees into the worst that the city has to offer and expect them to deal with what most of us can't.

The Housing Circumstances of Recently Arrived Refugees: The Winnipeg Experience (PDF)
This report describes a two year study of recently arrived refugees in the city of Winnipeg, and discusses their significant housing challenges. The research findings highlight the changes in circumstances that occurred over the two year study period. The report was written by researchers at the University of Winnipeg and released by Prairie Metropolis Centre at the University of Alberta.


The View from Seven said...

A good point, indeed. I suspect that the main goal in creating housing for immigrants in the Core Area was simply to (re)populate these areas as easily as possible, given the challenges of promoting downtown living in a city with short commutes (and thus little demand for inner-city housing as a commuting alternative), few panoramic vistas, and an aging population happy and comfortable in their inner and outer suburbs.

That being said, there's a danger in taking immigrants for granted as an easy market that will accept whatever they're offered. Anyone and any group that feels taken advantage of will eventually rebel, with unpleasant consequences for everyone. So, I hope your point will be read and kept in mind by policy makers.

mrchristian said...

Thanks, 7.

One Man Committee said...

That's a very thought provoking post. I suppose that immigrant and refugee housing is a pretty complicated issue with other factors entering the mix, like:

-housing cost and availability
-proximity to transportation and jobs
-proximity to education and resources
-proximity to other members of an immigrant community

It might be possible to build a residence in, say, Transcona or Charleswood, but it might not necessarily be the most desirable place to be from the point of view of a recent arrival who probably won't have the means to get a car right away. That isn't to say that Ellen Street is the way to go for everyone, but that option is going to be practical for a lot of immigrants. I guess that the bottom line is providing some level of choice.

Incidentally, I remember reading a news article a couple years ago about some refugee families who chose to leave Winnipeg for towns in southern Manitoba (either Morden or Winkler)... those communities are very tight knit in a way that simply doesn't exist in Winnipeg, and they really reached out to the refugees as I recall. There were jobs, they became quite involved in the community, there were no inner city gang and crime issues, etc. It was a pretty happy story and perhaps that might be a model to follow.

Winnipeg Girl said...

Very good post. I think many long-settled Canadians forget that they too, were once immigrants. While there is certainly merit in the point that there is benefit to new immigrants being close to one another, to provide supports in a way that may be impossible for others to do; it's also very important for both the newcomers and existing residents to interact with one another and learn about each other and their customs and cultures. This will never happen when the media keeps all the suburbanites afraid of the core areas.

I also remember the story about immigrant families making their homes in smaller rural communities and I think since many Winnipeggers have their roots in small towns, they would offer a similar welcoming here. The key is getting these folks to meet one another, which will only happen when we mix affordable housing throughout the city.

Who knows, if we did that, not only would newcomers feel more welcome but perhaps some people who have lived here their entire lives would as well.

The View from Seven said...

@ Winnipeg Girl: That's an interesting point about getting people to meet one another. Mixed high-density housing might help people make a few more connection than they would make in other types of housing.

But, aside from the workplace and bars, there are probably no better places to make new social contacts than at recreational facilities.

It might be worth the city's and province's while to consider building rec facilities in areas with large numbers of newcomers but little within walking distance, and to take a closer look at how they run existing facilities in terms of pricing, promotion, scheduling/hours, availability of "social" spaces such as hot tubs and saunas, etc.

mrchristian said...

Thanks for the comments !

- I certainly wouldn't advocate putting this housing at the outer reaches of the city as issues of jobs, transit would be a point. Still, in places like EK, the further reaches of the West End would still allow for easy access to central parts of town.

- There are community centres that could take the increased numbers like Bronx and other newly renovated / expanded ones.

- As for small towns - wouldn't that be a perfect option ? I knew someone running for election in the Russell area a few years back so we went to these towns - once vibrant ones like Elphinstone and especially Foxwarren that were just dwindling away to nothing and just crying out for someone to come there.

Lots of decent housing and retail. Some had empty, newer schools.

It was around Kosovo war time and a friend of mine was on that file at DFAIT (Foreign Affairs). I half joked with her to just put an ad in the main daily paper and say cut through the refugee red tape, sign up to come to Elphinstone. Invest some job creation money there, fund the rec centre and do classes out of the school (even if it was ESL or trades) ...

Even if jut 100 people took you up on it they would have a better life, so would the town and the region.

Bravo to places like Morden and Winkler who who have been able to take advantage of this.