Surrey programs aims to steer immigrants and refugees away from needing city charities

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Surrey Food Bank Executive Director Marilyn Herrmann

Executive Director Marilyn Herrmann (left) chats with volunteer Tony Fogarty at the Surrey Food Bank in Surrey Dec. 5, 2012. The City of Surrey, along with a number of local organizations, have announced a plan to create a more welcoming environment for immigrants and newcomers to the community. Ric Ernst/PNG files

The City of Surrey announced a new action plan Monday aimed at keeping new immigrants and refugees away from needing charitable services like the food bank.

According to Surrey Food Bank’s executive director, Marilyn Herrmann, of the near 14,000 visits each month, immigrants account for eight per cent.

“It’s particularly challenging for new immigrants when they come,” Herrmann told Vancouver Desi on Tuesday. “Part of the challenge they’re faced with — not only language, but recognition of the certification of their education and job skills.”

So the City of Surrey, along with a number of local organizations, crafted the plan to create a more welcoming environment in order to get newcomers better established and connected to the community.

The province has provided $667,000 towards the initiative — part of the Welcoming Communities Program — for the next two years.

“Many (immigrants) living here and coming here for the first time, they’re having to get their lives off the ground often with little economic support,” said Judy Villeneuve, who chairs Surrey’s social planning advisory committee. “They’re trying to make ends meet by the end of the month, so they’re not utilizing services like the food bank.

“And some of them do.”

The program works with a number of organizations, like the YMCA, RCMP, Alexander Neighbourhood House, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and many others.

“Any time people settle in a new neighbourhood, often they’re not aware of services,” said Villeneuve.

And while she admits many immigrants are attracted to Surrey because it’s a bit more affordable than Vancouver, costs invariably add up, like with having to take transit.

“It’s sort of a vicious circle for people trying to make ends meet on really little money,” said Villeneuve.

The city also wants to develop this plan because the funding will soon move from the provincial to federal government level.

“So I think the province is doing what it can do to work with cities that have a larger number of settlement services and refugees to try and get something off the ground this year,” said Villeneuve. “We really just want to be as well prepared as we can when that change occurs . . . so when money is distributed, hopefully from the federal government we know it will be placed in the right spot.”

“We have a fast-growing city taking in almost a thousand people a month and we just want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to succeed here.”
Herrmann said she applauds the city “for acknolwedging that this is a group that definelty does need help.”

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