A new Vancouver organization is fundraising to help ease the costs of transition and settlement for LGBT refugees trying to establish residency in Canada.
The Foundation of Hope launches its Strut fundraiser on March 28. Participants will have just over two months to seek pledges before they walk a mile in high-heeled shoes to raise money for organizations that support LGBT refugees, asylum seekers, newcomers and their families, says chair Carl Meadows.
It costs approximately $20,000 a year to relocate a couple to Vancouver, says Chris Morrissey, who for years has advocated for queer refugees through the organization she co-founded, Rainbow Refugee.
Vancouver is the second most expensive city in the world, which affects a person’s ability to find safe housing with access to a bed and reliable meals, says Sharalyn Jordan, who also works with Rainbow Refugee.
“What’s happening is instead people are having to couch surf or they’re living in roommate situations that are unsafe or in areas where they can’t go out after dark, or in areas where they may be subject to violence for being racialized or visibly trans or queer,” Jordan says.
The Foundation of Hope aims to provide funding for educational and employment services as well.
“This is critical in order to help them make the transition from their country into Canada, so that they’re able to retrain if that’s necessary, or upgrade and not be saddled with large loans,” Morrissey says.
Morrissey says the process for applying for permanent residency upon arriving in Canada can take up to a year, during which time people aren’t eligible for financial aid like student loans.
“Imagine being a refugee who can’t speak English and having to navigate a system and figure out if you can even receive a cheque that can help you,” Meadows says. “Our Foundation will work with non-profits and charities to help folks who have the hardest time accessing services. We want to make sure people don’t have to choose between hormones and food.”
Danny Ramadan was living as a Syrian refugee in Lebanon when he was sponsored to come to Canada as a permanent resident. He says he came to Vancouver with his boyfriend so that they could establish a future together.
Ramadan says he and his boyfriend were “inspired to grow into more than just two people hiding in corners in the Middle East trying to wait a war out.”
They needed “a safe, peaceful place to live,” he says, and came to Canada so they would have the freedom to express themselves.
Ramadan says having access to funding and social services was a necessity for his relocation to Vancouver. “As we arrived it was fun to go around and see the city, but then you would realize that life is challenging — like finding jobs, getting to know the culture, finding our own place in the community.”
The Foundation of Hope’s first community fundraiser, Strut, will begin at Sunset Beach at noon on June 6.
“Strut isn’t about walking a mile in other people’s shoes,” Meadows says. “It’s taking that ability and privilege we have to come together as an entire community, as LGBT people and allies, for all of those countries and women and men, especially those who are pushing the gender spectrum, who aren’t able to.”