Housing crisis in St. John means Ukrainian refugees are still housed in hotel rooms
Families and children stand outside the doors and hallways of the Holiday Inn in St. John’s. Some women wear traditional Ukrainian folk dresses that have been hand-embroidered with bright threads.
Others wear the vinok, a crown of colorful flowers that once symbolized marriageability but more recently has become a symbol of national pride and unity against Russian aggression.
On Wednesday, more than 150 families gathered at the hotel on Wednesday to celebrate Ukraine’s Independence Day, and many didn’t have much to do when the holiday ended.
It is because this hotel is their home. This is where families will stay until they find a home, host or apartment – something that has been difficult amid St. John’s ongoing housing crisis.
“We’ve been feeling the pressure from the housing market for some time,” said Megan Morris, executive director of the Association for New Canadians.
Around 100 families are currently staying at the hotel as the ANC works to connect them with hosts or private accommodation.
“Normally we have reception houses and apartments when people come to Newfoundland as government-assisted refugees. Yet we find ourselves using hotels more often than before, just to cope with the volume of people arriving,” she said.
“The housing crisis is a challenge.”
A shortage of affordable rental housing has plagued St. John’s for months. Landlords reported that dozens of people showed up for apartment tours, while tents and temporary shelters popped up in city parks and green spaces. AirBnB and other short-term rentals have been singled out as another scarcity factor, with tenants also facing higher heating costs.
Newfoundland and Labrador has asserted itself in the recruitment of Ukrainian refugees, with the first charter flight — the costs being covered by the provincial government — arrived May 9.
Oleksandr Panasyuk, who arrived in St. John’s on July 22, has been staying at the Holiday Inn for over a month.
The ANC have been trying to find accommodation, but finding accommodation in St. John’s is not easy at the moment,” Panasyuk said, adding that they felt welcome as they waited to find more permanent accommodation.
“The Ukrainian community in Newfoundland is growing right now — that’s our starting point. We meet and get to know each other, and the hotel has been wonderful for us.
Panasyuk recently started working as a guest services manager at the Holiday Inn.
“I feel lucky to find a good job that makes sense. It’s like I have part of my life settled here, but I want to hang a picture and have privacy and that feeling of ‘I’m home now. “I’m grateful for the help from the government, but we’re all looking for that feeling of home.”
“They are safe here in Canada”
Morris acknowledged that the situation is not ideal.
“Some people have extended stays in hotels, but we try to look at them from the perspective that they are safe here in Canada. And we have a motivated team trying to find housing solutions,” he said. she declared.
“We’re going to get people into homes – it may take a bit longer.”
Host families and accommodation offers are always welcome, and Morris says it’s a relatively easy thing to arrange.
“Just contact us,” she said. “We have a whole team working to find accommodation for all government-assisted refugees. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are excellent at volunteering and showing up during a humanitarian crisis. We found that Newfoundlanders were very eager to help the Ukraine.”
Pananyuk hasn’t experienced much culture shock yet and feels like he was able to adapt quickly.
“Our trees, bushes and berries are the same. I was surprised by that,” he said.
“The biggest difference is that more people are smiling here. There are happy people here. In Ukraine, since 2014, you know, most people are sad,” he said in reference to a crisis triggered by the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the outbreak of hostilities. culminating in the Russian invasion this winter.
“The smile is the biggest difference.”
Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador