When the $24.5-million Welcome House in Vancovuer is completed in March 2016, it will form a new housing concept in providing shelter and support systems, including legal advice, for refugees and immigrants.
“This is the first building of its kind in the world,” says director of settlement service Chris Friesen for the Immigration Services Society of British Columbia, the owner of 2610 Victoria Dr. in east Vancouver.
There is a similar facility in Lisbon, Portugal, but it does not provide short- and long-term housing for refugees. The Vancouver ISS facility has 16 housing units which can accommodate up to 138 beds.
The 58,000-square-foot Welcome House, designed by Vancouver’s Henrique Partners Architects, is being billed as a one-stop shop for all refugee and immigrant needs. It consist of six floors with the first two providing services such as a pro bono legal clinic, Van City banking services, primary medical care, multilingual trauma support and treatment, multilingual settlement support staff for finding permanent accommodation, employment services, and volunteer services in the community, food bank and second-hand clothing outlets.
The building will also house educational services with seven classrooms for ESL, a computer lab plus child-care facilities. It will also have meeting rooms for seminars.
Friesen says it will provide office space that pro bono lawyers can use to work with new immigrants and refugees. He has already been in touch with several immigration lawyers in Vancouver as well as the University of B.C.’s law faculty.
Over the years, the ability to mesh lawyers with clients has been “piecemeal” but the new facility, with bookings through the ISS’s office, will be more comprehensive, he says. As well, the educational classrooms and meeting rooms provide opportunities to conduct seminars or legal information sessions.
“With the new building and the new initiatives we are pulling together it will allow for a greater continuum of legal services for refugees,” he says, adding the society is open to hearing from lawyers in the community who want to work with refugees.