As our foundation closes in our first round of grants, it is important for us to build relationships with the LGBT+ community and with those who eventually might apply for them. Part of that work involves getting to know the various service providers and grass roots organizations that do great work with LGBT+ newcomers.
As a board member, I have been assigned a number of tasks and recently I visited Catarina Moreno, Program Manager for Qmunity, located in the heart of Davie Village. Cat invited me for tea and a tour of the place, which includes a library with a youth lounge, meeting rooms for free counseling services, and the Bute Street Clinic jointly administered with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). When we sat down, she began by telling me about Qmunity’s four main program streams.
“We build community through a range of programs including drop-ins for free counseling and health and wellness services,” Cat told me. “We provide queer competency training that allows services providers to remain respectful and offers teaching tools for schools. We advocate through various forms of engagement to increase our visibility and we provide space for connection that celebrates queer community.”
Qmunity increasingly provides services to LGBT+ newcomers as part of a larger services provider network (SPN), which I attended with Cat the same week. The group includes representatives Mosaic Settlement and Family Services, Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of BC, and Raven Song Community Health Centre, among other attendees.
The group gives service providers a chance to network on each other’s resources and identify gaps in the community. But after a while the discussion seemed to focus on one issue: housing.
Finding safe, long-term housing is an issue for many refugees who often face additional discrimination. Under the resettlement assistance program, government-sponsored refugees have access to temporary housing such as Welcome Houses, but only for as little as two weeks, according to Dorcas Mendez of ISS. Living in or near downtown Vancouver is also expensive, but that is also where most services for LGBT+ refugees are located. So many choose to live further away from the city, where they can become isolated.
To combat this issue, Mosaic identified the need for LGBT+ support groups and recommended service providers consider sending clients to Mosaic’s I Belong program — a six-month pilot project funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). I Belong supports LGBT+ immigrant newcomers by learning about “the intersectionality between sexuality, gender, race, cultural diversity, class, criminalization, and colonialism.” The project provides support groups and one-on-one community connection opportunities, conducted research to learn of existing gaps, and put forward recommendations in a report.
“Mosaic is taking baby steps and learning, building capacity, and remaining transparent”, says Roja Bagheri, Mosaic’s Program Coordinator. Funding for I Belong runs out on March 25 and currently does not extend beyond this stage.
My impression from the meeting is that clear deficiencies exist in terms of opportunities available to LGBT+ newcomers. Lack of housing and community support services are chief concerns held by the SPN; however, the willingness to meet and share resources and information is encouraging. It opens the door to a more collaborative approach. Foundation of Hope intends to be more involved with the SPN moving forward.