Winnipeg Foundation gets $500K to help settle Syrian refugees

A new fund to help settle Syrian refugees in Winnipeg and get them started in their new lives was announced Thursday morning at Welcome Place.

Winnipeg is expected to have a total of 2,000 Syrian refugees by year's end

A young boy waves from the crowd at a funding announcement for newcomers Thursday in Winnipeg at Welcome Place. (CBC)

A new fund to help settle Syrian refugees in Winnipeg and get them started in their new lives was announced Thursday morning at Welcome Place.

The Winnipeg Foundation will be in charge of the $500,000 Welcome Fund, with the money coming from national corporations, community organizations and private sector donations.

The Welcome Fund is one of many similar announcements by the Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) happening across the country.

"This is a truly national project," said Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum, who was in the city for the announcement.

He said he enlisted support of private sector donors — banks, insurance companies, the automotive industry — with the goal of raising $50 million to aid Syrian refugee settlement efforts. The largest single donation has come from CN Rail, which contributed $5 million.

So far, more than $30 million has been raised.

The total funding being disbursed by CFC member agencies is just over $5.5 million.

More than 800 refugees from Syria have already arrived in Winnipeg and the city is expected to have a total of 2,000 by year's end.

There are many organizations in the city doing incredible work to support newcomers in our community.- Winnipeg Foundation CEO Rick Frost

The first grant from the new fund will go to Welcome Place, which will receive $150,000 to provide rent support and essential household items to refugees as they transition out of the temporary housing at Welcome Place into permanent residences.

Welcome Place will use the funds to create a Bed in a Bag program, which will provide each refugee family with a package with linens and cooking utensils in it when they go to their new home.

"It's such a profound need for people to feel secure and a sense of belonging when they've had to leave everything behind to start a new life in a new country. This household package that we have is very, very basic," said Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, which operates Welcome Place.

Another grant, of $75,000, is going to the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba to provide supports to families living in their transitional housing.

"For the 48 refugee families that will live at IRCOM's newest transitional housing complex, the generous support of the Welcome Fund means ready access to multilingual, knowledgeable and culturally competent staff," said Erin Anderson, director of programming for IRCOM.

"It means being able to walk down the hall from their new apartment, in an entirely new country, and receive meaningful wrap-around settlement supports and referrals from a familiar face in their first language; settlement supports and referrals that greatly improve their access to health care, daycare, counselling, parenting programs, government benefits and much, much more."

The Winnipeg Foundation is still determining the best use for the remaining $275,000. Those details will be shared in the coming weeks, once confirmed, said CEO Rick Frost.

"There are many organizations in the city doing incredible work to support newcomers in our community," he said.