Photo Credit: Open Homes Hamilton 2020

Started in 2018, Open Homes Hamilton (OHH) is a multi-church network supporting refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality. OHH is a ministry of the International Association for Refugees Canada (IAFR Canada).

The need for and lack of proper housing for refugee claimants has become a crisis in recent years. Micah House, the only shelter for refugee claimants in Hamilton, had to turn away 500 refugee claimants in 2017 alone because they had no space to house them! On top of that, there has been an incredible jump in housing prices in most parts of the province, while the Ontario Works rate has only increased by 8.75% in the past 20 years, which directly impacts refugee claimants as many are on this program. 

On top of the housing challenges are the negative perceptions of refugees which only seems to be getting worse in the last couple of years. 

What Does Open Homes Hamilton Do?

The way OHH helps is by bridging the gap between Christians with extra space in their houses (called “Hosts”) and refugee claimants (called “Guests”) in need of that space. OHH supports Hosts and Guests with both the Open Homes’ team and “Companions” – other volunteers who offer friendship and practical help as refugee claimants adapt to their new home. By offering this support and ongoing relational training, they not only provide appropriate housing but they also break down barriers between refugee claimants and the people of Hamilton, and beyond! OHH believes that recovering the Church’s historic commitment to radical hospitality is part of the call on followers of Christ and they help churches answer that call. 

“The refugee crisis desperately needs churches to show up in ways that further hope, healing, and reconciliation in the world,” Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan, Open Homes Hamilton’s team leader, shared.

One church that showed up was New Hope Church, a CRC church plant in Hamilton, ON. In order to support the work of OHH and expand their mission and reach, an application was made to Diaconal Ministries’ NewGround program. Grant money would be used for training and support for their leadership team and volunteers, as well as practical support for refugees like bus fare, grocery cards, and rides to Toronto for refugee hearings.

Steenwyk-Rowaan has had regular conversations with New Hope’s leadership team for more than a year about how to plug in their congregation to the ministry. New Hope has provided great input, support, and advice along the way and they are committed to continuing the relationship and the conversation. Prayer and financial support has also challenged the congregation to remember the plight of refugees and be directly involved in providing practical support. 

What support does NewGround offer, beyond just grant money?

Part of every NewGround partnership is coaching and support. Last spring, then NewGround Coordinator, Tammy Heidbuurt, worked with Steenwyk-Rowaan and her team to do a 3-6 month strategic plan. As they have achieved all those goals from that plan, OHH is now working on a longer-term plan which will involve digging deeper into their vision.

How has NewGround helped New Hope love its community?

Partnering with OHH has allowed New Hope Church to welcome refugee claimants into communities of belonging and has reminded them of the transformative power of the ancient Christian practice of hospitality. A few members of New Hope are signed on as Companions while a few more are occasional volunteers, willing to help where needed! Talk about being the hands and feet (and mouth!) of Jesus! What’s even better is that other churches have come on board to support the work of OHH, including Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, ON.

So what is OHH doing now? Isn’t it true there is more refugee housing than is needed at the moment? (a far cry from the situation a few years ago!) 

OHH recently reminded us that while this is true, it’s deceptive. There are refugee claimants out there who need housing, support, and a community of belonging, but they can’t get here. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the border is closed so OHH has not been able to welcome new refugees in almost a year! It is also extremely difficult to get a visa for Canada—even harder now that immigration offices are still not at full capacity. Refugee claimants are just stuck, in unsafe situations, at risk of detention, not able to get flights here.

So OHH continues to work hard to support newly arrived refugees as well as joining with refugee advocates across the country to ask that the border be reopened to refugee claimants. They believe it can be done safely! (Why not follow their work on Facebook and/or contact them to receive their newsletters?!)

Thanks to NewGround so much of this has been possible! Praise God!