Welcome Place opens 2 overflow locations to help settle Syrian refugees
Welcome Place has provided aid to more than 630 Syrian refugees since November
For Jean Pierre Venegas, helping refugees resettle in Manitoba is more than just a job — it's personal.
He crossed paths with a man from the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (Welcome Place) and realized the settlement agency could help him get a fresh start.
"We speak Spanish, both of us, and he was from Guatemala," said Venegas. "He said, 'Come to Welcome Place. We can help you. You can have at least an apartment that you can live [in].' Good. Music to my ears."
Now all these years later, he's the one helping others start over in a new country.
Venegas is the property manager at one of Welcome Place's two overflow locations, which opened in recent months to help resettle the influx of Syrian refugees in Manitoba.
The agency is often a first stop for government-assisted refugees arriving in Winnipeg. It offers temporary housing along with supports and services as people work to start over in a new country.
"So far we have been full at all times," said Venegas.
Welcome Place has provided aid to more than 630 people who have been displaced by conflict in Syria since November.
The province is expected to welcome 2,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.
- Liberal shift on immigration leaves Winnipeg agencies cautiously optimistic
- Welcome House staff work overtime to settle refugees in Winnipeg
Rita Chahal, executive director of the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, said in addition to operating the two overflow locations, extra staff are in place to help meet the demand for services.
"Anything that we identify as a need is being taken care of," said Chahal. "Our funders are providing the additional support that's needed to be able to deliver those services."
Still, Venegas said even with the extra support and more space, starting over in a new country brings challenges. That includes everything from finding suitable housing to meeting the needs of bigger families on a budget to getting used to daily living in Canada.
In recent weeks, Welcome Place has tried to find permanent housing for clients within about 10 to 14 days after their arrival, but it typically takes longer for larger families. The agency plans to continue operating one of the overflow locations until the end of June. The other will close at the end of March.
In the meantime, Venegas said he feels honoured to be able to help people transition to a new life in Canada.
"It's a change in life work that I'm doing here," he said. "Every day at the end of the day, I have either one kid or the parents telling you thank you for small things, for just trying to make them more comfortable."
Over the last 14 years, Venegas has started a family and built a life in the city. He wants others to know Winnipeg is great city to call home.
"I'm happy," said Venegas. "This is a very successful story of somebody who came here as a refugee and 14 years later, I'm a member of the community."