Summerside mayor 'surprised' no Syrian refugees have settled in the city

Summerside Mayor Bill Martin says he expected at least a few Syrian families would be calling the city home by now.

All 59 government-sponsored refugees on P.E.I. have settled in Charlottetown

Summerside Mayor Bill Martin is surprised the city hasn't seen more refugees choose to settle there. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Summerside Mayor Bill Martin says he expected at least a few Syrian families would be calling the city home by now.

In the fall, when plans for P.E.I. to take in 250 refugees by the spring were unfolding, Martin said the provincial government and PEI Association for Newcomers seemed interested in having-government sponsored refugees move into rental units in Summerside's Slemon Park.  

Many of these folks are coming from large cities. They find even Charlottetown small.— Craig Mackie , PEI Association for Newcomers

But so far, all 59 government-sponsored refugees that have landed on P.E.I. have settled in Charlottetown.

"I know there are a lot of logistics that need to be worked out, but I'm a little surprised, yes," Martin said. "We're here, we're ready, we're willing, and we're able."

Slemon Park Corporation president Shawn McCarville said he was anticipating a large influx of refugees as well.

The corporation owns more than 250 homes in Slemon Park, 40 of which are currently vacant.  

"I met with the province a couple times, and met with the City of Summerside," he said.

"We thought of a concept of 10 or 20 families coming together, and the families settling together. We said there could be the community here and establish a classroom facility for the kids, and an adult classroom as well, and provide a pretty complete solution as part of the City of Summerside."

Slemon Park Corporation president Shawn McCarville says the corporation owns 40 vacant homes in Slemon Park. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

'Limited services in Summerside'

The PEI Association for Newcomers — the group that helps refugees settle on the Island — may turn to Slemon Park if it runs out of housing options in Charlottetown.

But so far, with the government-sponsored refugees arriving at a slower pace than was originally anticipated, that hasn't been a problem.

"There are limited services in Summerside right now in terms of being able to support the settlement and to provide language training," said Craig Mackie, the association's executive director.

"But there are more services here [Charlottetown], and it makes sense, if the numbers remain small, to put them here … They only have so much money.  They can't be spending it on taxis or long-distance bussing for transportation."

But Martin refutes that claim, saying Trius Transit has told him it's willing to extend public transit to Slemon Park, and that's as far as Summerside's refugees will need to go.

Craig Mackie, seen here with settlement worker Melissa Coffin, says most refugees so far are choosing to live in Charlottetown. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"We have all the services we need here in Summerside," Martin said.

"We've got a phenomenal facility within a quarter mile of here that used to be used by Holland College that is now vacant that could be accessed for English language training."

But Mackie said Summerside is still a tough sell for many refugees.  

"They have to right to choose where they live, and many of these folks are coming from large cities," he said. "They find even Charlottetown small. So the message we've heard is they don't want to be too far from downtown right now."

One privately sponsored Syrian family is expected to arrive in Summerside later this week. Mackie said that could entice other refugees to consider the western city.  

"I think we're going to get there. I think that as more Syrian families settle in Summerside, you get that critical mass forming and it becomes an option for people."

Slemon Park Corporation president Shawn McCarville and Summerside Mayor Bill Martin hope some refugees will choose to settle in Summerside. (Steve Bruce/CBC)


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