B.C. charities turn to online fundraising to keep up with demand from asylum seekers

B.C. charities turn to online fundraising to keep up with demand from asylum seekers

Some Vancouver charities are banding together and turning to crowdfunding to cover the costs of assisting the rising number of asylum seekers arriving in B.C.

"It's hard for us to help these people properly," says Mario Ayala, the executive director of the Inland Refugee Society, which relies on a grant from the City of Vancouver and donations.

That's why his group is joining with three other nonprofit organizations — Inasmuch Community Society, Journey Home Community Association and Kinbrace Community Society — to form the Asylum Seekers Community.

Together, they are hoping to raise $50,000 to hire a development director who will then help them raise more money to meet the needs of asylum seekers.

"The first weeks and months in Canada are especially stressful and traumatising for refugee claimants," says James Grunau, executive director of Journey Home, an organization which helps find housing for recent arrivals.

Grunau says the groups have worked together in the past, but said he hoped the formal partnership would help the new group create more awareness and raise more funds.

'Running out of capacity'

The group says there are 150 asylum seekers per month seeking asylum in B.C. so far this year, compared to 110 per month in 2016.

"We are really afraid that we won't help the increasing numbers soon. We are running out of capacity," says Ayala.

He warns asylum seekers may be at risk for becoming homeless, as it is difficult to find housing with a vacancy rate below one per cent.

"They're staying wherever we can find [space]," says Julia St. Pierre, who also works for the IRS.

That could mean a shelters, hotel, apartment, or an Airbnb, depending on the day.

"We're asking them okay we have a hotel here for two nights, and then you can go to this place for three nights and then go back to the hotel for two nights," says St. Pierre, who's asking the public to help with the accommodation crunch.

"If people from the community have a room in their house that they're willing to rent out at that low rate, that can really help some of our clients and free up shelter space."

With asylum seekers projected to continue rising, St. Pierre doesn't know when her organization will see a reprieve. 

"When you hear Justin Trudeau on TV saying refugees are welcome to Canada, a lot of people come to Canada thinking they'll have a lot more services provided for them," says St. Pierre.