Committee welcomes newcomers
By Dawn Smith
Tuesday, December 22, 2015 10:55:25 MST AM
An interagency group is working to welcome newcomers to Airdrie.
Welcoming Airdrie, which has membership from 10 local organizations including the City of Airdrie, Community Links and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), is working to provide opportunities and resources so that immigrants feel included, connected and engaged in the community.
Committee member Laurie Jacob-Toews, the Community Development Services Manager for Community Links, said the group came together in 2011 after Community Links hosted a presentation put on by CCIS about creating a welcoming community.
Jacob-Toews said she is definitely seeing a growing trend of newcomers to Airdrie.
“We are definitely noticing an increase,” she said, noting a number of immigrants either have previously settled in other Canadian communities before establishing themselves in the city or have family or friends already living in Airdrie.
And immigrants are coming from all over the world, said Jacob-Toews.
In fact, from January to September, Airdrie attracted newcomers from 51 different countries on every continent, with the highest number, 31, being Filipino, followed by 17 from England and 12 from Germany.
Kathleen McMurray of Rocky View Immigration Services is addressing the barriers faced by immigrants head on.
As a social worker, she works hands-on with newcomers to help them get settled in the city with a job, home, connections to the community and all the documents they need to settle into their new life.
She said she has been busy this fall in both the Rocky View Schools system to help students make the transition to a life in the community and with her adult clients.
McMurray noted immigrants may face numerous barriers when resettling in smaller urban or rural areas like Airdrie and Rocky View.
One of the difficulties for those emigrating to rural areas, said McMurray, is that they may not even be aware of the services that exist within the community, including the programs she offers.
She said Welcoming Airdrie partners assist with that.
“If they notice someone that looks like a newcomer, they often direct them to me,” said McMurray, noting she, in turn, refers her clients to other partner agencies.
According to McMurray, Airdrie has a diverse immigrant demographic that face complex issues.
She highlighted the top three barriers for Airdrie immigrants which include lack of transportation services, housing and employment.
“Transportation is a huge barrier in Airdrie,” said McMurray, noting cost and flexibilities are factors.
Finding affordable, adequate housing is another problem, she noted, as is the difficulty in providing references for landlords as well as the fact that many immigrants don’t have established credit in Canada, which can make landlords wary of renting to them.
Many immigrants also find it difficult to get a first job, said McMurray, noting employers often won’t give them a chance.
But it’s not all bad news. McMurray said there is much the community can do to welcome immigrants, starting with education and awareness—which is one of Welcoming Airdrie’s goals.
That’s why the organization has been organizing community workshops and discussion sessions, said McMurray.
“One of the best things that the community can do is seizing those opportunities to come to community forums,” she said, encouraging both newcomers and long time residents to get engaged in the issues and provide feedback to the committee.
In addition, Welcoming Airdrie is always looking for new voices to join the discussion.