Finding a place to live in Salmon Arm can be tough for anyone, given today’s housing shortages, but it appears particularly difficult for new immigrants.
Shuswap Immigrant Services Society has seen how newcomers are struggling to find a home, explained Brianne McFarlane, community outreach coordinator. The society recently created a poster saying it is supporting employed newcomers looking for housing.
“Searching for emergency, temporary and long-term options within Salmon Arm and surrounding areas,” it reads. “If you have any types of accommodation available, please consider contacting us.”
McFarlane said it would be ideal to have a list of people who might have available accommodation, so staff could just check in and see if there’s something that fits a particular client who’s searching.
“I would say this month we have probably five people looking, all with different scenarios and situations. There are quite a few people who are in housing that isn’t ideal,” she added.
Some people who have places to rent might be afraid to publicize them because they could find themselves overwhelmed by responses, she surmised.
McFarlane said there may be several other reasons for difficulties. One of the most active places where people are posting rentals seems to be a private Facebook page, she said. The feedback the society has received is that some newcomers haven’t been accepted into the group, perhaps because there may be discrimination going on.
Or people with rentals may be leery of scams. When new immigrants come here, they often don’t have a Canadian phone number, she explained. Instead, perhaps a WhatsApp contact. So it can be difficult to converse back and forth. Also people renting like to receive references, which newcomers might not have.
For the newcomers, although they would like to be looking for housing before they arrive, they, too, are leery of scams, she pointed out. Some have been scammed when they’ve made an international money transfer to secure a place.
Although more housing seems to be available in Tappen and Blind Bay, transportation can be a problem. Because new immigrants often don’t immediately get cars, they try to find accommodation that’s central. Many work in the hospital, McFarlane said, night shifts or early morning, and the buses don’t run then.
The last piece, she noted, is that for most new immigrants, English isn’t their first language. So they’re trying to understand Canadian customs around renting.
“Imagine trying to navigate ads, phone calls and messages, when English isn’t your first language. It’s difficult. And trying to find something affordable.”
Shuswap Immigrant Services Society also supports clients who, unfortunately, are in a precarious situation because of their immigration status.
McFarlane explains they come to the Shuswap on a closed permit so they are essentially tied to one employer. They are not allowed to work for anyone else. They will come to the area for two years, for instance, to work certain hours at a certain wage.
Because of the power dynamic in that kind of situation, she said, there is opportunity for abuse. Sometimes newcomers are given housing with their employment.
“In some cases it’s really great and really helps,” she noted.
However, if housing is tied to the employee doing something beyond the scope of the contract or something dangerous, the worker may be forced to leave their job or housing. Yet then they’re not able to get another job.
“It’s definitely the dark side of the temporary foreign worker program,” said McFarlane. “A lot of them are so grateful (to be here working); we really need them and they need us.”
Even if a newcomer just needs a room overnight, often a credit card is needed, which they might not have.
“Sometimes it’s folks with kids, sometimes it’s single people, sometimes it’s for varying lengths of time.”
If you have accommodation, short- or long-term, you’re invited to contact Brianne at the Shuswap Immigrant Services Society at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 250-804-2726.
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