ON MARCH 3, the Government of Canada issued a press release stating that Ukrainians fleeing the war could come to Canada temporarily under a new Canada-Ukrainian Authorization for Emergency Travel.
The visa will allow an individual fleeing the Ukraine to come to Canada and stay temporarily for up to two years. There will be no limit as to how many Ukrainians can apply to this program. The government hopes to have the program open for applicants by March 17.
But where will the arriving Ukrainians stay? Will they come to Kamloops?
Different groups are definitely preparing for arrivals. Kamloops Immigrant Services is ramping up for the arrivals. Local faith-based groups and cultural groups are preparing for possible newcomers.
Every day, there is news of one Kamloops group or another fundraising, contacting relatives, or supporting Ukrainians in some way or other.
So it was not a surprise when Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian mentioned at the standing-room only City budget meeting on March 10 that higher levels of government had asked if Kamloops could take Ukrainians fleeing the war.
But what Mayor Christian said next was disappointing. After saying that Kamloops had been asked to take Ukrainians, he stated he had told high levels of government that there was no room in Kamloops.
True enough. Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) reports Kamloops’ rental vacancy rate is 0.9 per cent. Housing is incredibly tight in Kamloops, as was seen in the Fall of 2021 when university students struggled to find housing.
But Kamloops is not the only B.C. city with an extremely tight housing market. Vernon’s is 0.8 per cent, Squamish 0.4, Salmon Arm 0.5, and Kelowna 0.6. The provincial average is just 1.4 per cent. Only six out of 29 locations reported by CMHC had vacancy rates of 2.2 per cent or more.
Now what Mayor Christian might have meant to say was that Kamloops has no room, but we will find it. There is no room, and it will be difficult, but we’ll find a way. That’s what I’m hoping he meant to say.
One church has told me they had been asked by the City if they could support one or more Ukrainian families, and that they had been told that Kamloops had been asked to take up to 400 Ukrainians.
The number of Ukrainian refugees continues to mount. As of today, over 2.6 million have fled their country, surpassing the number of refugees who have fled Afghanistan. At present, only Syria and Venezuela have more refugees than Ukraine.
Kamloops has no room, but there is still room to be found.
I think of my own house. Over the years, I have had one niece or nephew after the next stay with me. But now there is just me.
I think of my neighbor, who has a basement suite that had once been rented but has now been empty for years.
I think of the many people who have come forward during past floods and fire and provided short and long-term space for people leaving disasters.
Kamloops is full, as Mayor Christian said. But room can be found. We are not a steel ball that is inflexible. We are like a balloon, where when called on, expands to give more. We’ve demonstrated that again and again through fire and flood. We will demonstrate it again when the Ukrainians arrive.
I hope what Mayor Christian meant to say is “we have no room, but room will be found”. It’s what Kamloops wants to hear.
Rental housing is tight. But local politicians need to clearly state that Ukrainians fleeing the war are welcome in Kamloops. Room will be found.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.