A church and its congregation in Winnipeg's inner city are answering the call to help more refugees by making a new transitional house on Ellice Avenue.
"Welcome Place and Hospitality House are overflowing. There is a need, really, for relationship housing, and that's really what this is," said Tim Nielsen, the pastor of City Church on Maryland Street.
He said almost his entire congregation consists of former refugees, and now they are banding together to help new ones.
City Church bought a building on Ellice Avenue for $100,000 and plans to turn it into transitional housing for refugees. It will have eight to 10 bedrooms, include an accessible bedroom and shower for people with disabilities, and have a common kitchen and a classroom for English as an additional language.
Nielsen said the church plans to move its offices there as well.
Professionals donating time
The building is currently being gutted and members of the congregation worked on the weekend to help clear out debris, Nielsen said, adding that the facility is being transformed by professionals and tradespeople donating their time.
"A designer and architect and an engineer have donated their time. We have several volunteers doing demolition work. Electrician and plumbers lined up. We are expecting to get a building permit any day now," he said.
Nielsen is challenging other churches to come on board and partner with City Church.
"You know, to be honest with you, we want to see Winnipeg step up and do it, and the faith community come together and do that," he said. "City Church cannot do it by itself. We need the partnership of other churches."
Nielsen said another $50,000 to $100,000 is needed. He's hoping the facility will open within the next six months to a year.
1st year difficult for refugees
Nielsen has experience helping refugees and said the first year is extremely difficult for newcomers.
"A man from the Congo was completely blind. He fell down the stairs and broke his leg. Then he moved into a house that had no locks on it for the first weekend. It was not a good experience," Nielsen said.
He recalls refugees contacting him and telling him how cold they were in their new homes. Nielsen said they didn't know how to adjust a thermostat. He said one family called the fire department when they saw the flame in the furnace, thinking it was a fire.
"They need someone who cares and loves them and will help them make the transition," he said.
The new centre will be called Naomi House, after a refugee woman in the book of Ruth in the Bible.
"She was forced to leave to another country. Her husband dies. She goes back home after the war and feels displaced. She is an excellent example of what a refugee goes through," he said.
The new house is welcome news to Welcome Place and Hospitality House.
The number of new files at Welcome Place has doubled over the same period last year. From April 2014 to September 2015, 33 new files were opened. This year, from April 2015 until now, 78 new files have already been opened.
"We know we are meeting a real need," said Nielsen.
"Look at what is going on with the Syrian refugee crisis. Our heart goes out to them. We care tremendously. We are also aware that on average, a refugee is staying in a camp for 17 years. This work to help them has been in our heart for years."