By Ryan Mitchell The Afro News Vancouver
Loren Balisky is a member of Grandview Baptist Church. He is a passionate member who works for Salsbury Community Society, making sure new immigrants receive proper living arrangements until they eventually become independent once they arrive in Canada.
Loren Balisky states his position and the origin of his passion, “I work for a small charity called Salsbury Community Society. Salsbury was formed out of a local Church, by people in the congregation with a vision to connect with the outstanding needs in the community. Back in 1997, when it was founded, it revolved around housing issues. Presently, we still providing housing, but we also help people with the systems’ bureaucracy, immigration, refugee hearings, helping their kids get into school, trying constantly to keep people from falling through the cracks. It’s sort of what we call low level advocacy. We also fulfil the minor work like getting the clients orientated with the city.”
Kinbrace was one of the first non profit initiatives under Salsbury Community Society, “Kinbrace focuses on providing housing for refugee claimants in Metro Vancouver. It is a community, rooted in relationships and practised hospitality that welcomes refugee claimants new to Vancouver by providing housing, support, and advocacy.”
“Our model is very simple; we have a core community who live here permanently.” Balisky believes living within the community of the new comers is the best environment for developing connections.
He describes the reason and goal for Kinbrace. “Our mission is to welcome refugee claimants who are new in Canada and who are homeless. Balisky and his family, along with others, live in a community which is physically connected to the housing units that provide shelter and transitional housing to the new residents. “Refugee claimants live here in self contained units for three to five months and then we work together to help them transition into a permanent housing situation.”
“We have a real interest in community living; I want to know how we can be together as human beings in none isolating ways, so to create a community like this held a lot of attraction and interest.” Living in close arrangements gives Loren opportunities to get to know the new immigrants and assess what other needs they may have. “We also provide any other support, whether it is a job that we can refer them to or something we can help them with directly.”
Loren mentions his support for community living and how it gives comfort to the new comers. “Settlement takes time, and a huge amount of energy to pass the language barriers. There are a lot of issues that need to be attended to, but the people who have been here longer, mentor the new ones just arriving because we all live here together, so it’s a constant spiral of help! ”
Loren speaks about people who are the most exposed in society, “The most vulnerable people in our community are ones who are not having their basic needs met like shelter and food. Of those coming new into the country, which has no shelter and no social connections, the most vulnerable people are refugee claimants.”
He goes further into detail about the predicament of new comers. “We have a lot of vulnerable people, who are Canadians, but often there is already services establish to meet their needs, there aren’t as many services for refugee claimants.”
“You don’t see them sleeping on the street, like some of our Canadian homeless population, but they fit into a category of what we call the ‘hidden homeless.’ They will find someone who speaks their language or who are the same culture as them and they will make a connection, and communities are generally very supportive, of each other, and they will sleep on the couch here and there. So again they don’t sleep on the street, but they are homeless.”
Balisky states the challenge for government policy is trying to attend to the people. “Our government policies need to be attentive to vulnerability and what systems we can set up to help people settle.”
Balisky emphasizes the importance of keeping in touch after welcoming new immigrants into the country. “As an immigrant and refugee accepting country, we welcome newcomers, but if we don’t provide mid- to long-term supports or don’t engage in ongoing mutual relationships, once people land here, they will flounder.”