City funding will only get refugee society through one night

In a typical month in 2016, the Inland Refugee Society of B.C. served about 24 refugees. This year that number has been closer to 100 each month.

Inland Refugee Society of B.C. leaning on friends, ex-board members to house influx of newcomers

0 Avenue in Surrey, B.C. separates the United States from Canada. Many of the people seeking assistance from the Inland Refugee Society of B.C. cross the border on foot here. (Google Streetview) (Google Earth ) (Google Earth )

The Inland Refugee of Society of B.C. says their share of new funding from the City of Vancouver will only cover a single night of their costs.

Faced with begging and borrowing, the refugee settlement society is struggling to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of refugees crossing into Canada.

"Some of our past executive board members are taking in people, we're calling friends like it's emergency funding. We have yet, in 34 years, to turn anybody away," Ilona Beiks, vice president of the Inland Refugee Society of B.C. told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's On The Coast.

In a typical month in 2016, the IRS served about 24 refugees. This year that number has been closer to 100 each month.

Housing coordination is only one of the services offered by the IRS. The society also provides access to English language classes, food, transportation and other immediate needs.

Staff floating increasing costs

The executive director has had to float costs by putting them on his personal credit card at times, according to Beiks.

The organization is "in the red," said Beiks, despite the City of Vancouver's recent contribution of $181,000 to five refugee assistance groups. The IRS of B.C. received $4,000 of that money.

"That's one night cost for the refugees we're handling right now, one night," she said.

While she's grateful for any amount, Beiks is worried as the number of inland refugees coming to B.C. continues to climb.

Refugees 'have nothing'

Inland refugees who end up at the IRS are not government sponsored or privately sponsored to be in Canada. They are mostly arriving by foot from the United States but some do arrive by plane.

Many are fleeing the U.S. fearing they will be deported or penalized under strict new rules laid out by President Donald Trump.

They mostly apply for refugee status once they are in Canada with the help of the IRS, but when they first arrive they have no access to social services. Beiks calls them "the most vulnerable" and says they "have nothing."

The organization's first priority is coordination of housing, an expensive and time-consuming responsibility for the tiny group.

Beiks believes the organization, which operates with the equivalent of 2.5 full-time staff, will be able to stay open until September or October but she's not sure what will happen after that.

"We need support. We need other people and all levels of government to step up to the plate," said Beiks. 

With files from On The Coast and Clare Hennig