Change Can Happen. Profiles in community leadership: Kinbrace Community Society

Central City Foundation is once again celebrating examples of extraordinary community leadership. We are highlighting the dedication and determination of those whose support for community-led solutions helped people in our inner city and beyond and have demonstrated that change can happen in our community. As part of this celebration, we have asked each of our profiled leaders to share with us their thoughts on leadership, community, and their relationship with Central City Foundation.

Derek Chu, Director of Operations, Adriana Zepeda, Settlement Worker and Loren Balisky, Director of Engagement, Kinbrace Community Society

For 25 years, Kinbrace has been building connection and belonging with and for refugee claimants arriving in our community. In addition to welcoming families from all parts of the globe into their transitional housing community, Kinbrace is now sharing their understanding of the transformative power of human connection through the Beyond Refuge program.

Q:  How does your organization help address the conditions faced by people in the inner city?

The Kinbrace community welcomes refugee claimants with housing, education, and support. When we launched in 1998, the primary driver was to meet the desperate housing needs of this less-known population. Sadly, 25 years later, the housing situation is only more desperate.

Refugee claimants are people arriving in Canada seeking refuge and protection from persecution in their home countries. Many arrive without anyone to meet them, usually exhausted in spirit and resources. In 2022, 3,910 refugee claimants arrived in BC, almost all in Metro Vancouver.

Kinbrace’s six program areas seek to meet the unique needs of refugee claimants: housing, community, refugee protection, employment, wellness, and beyond refuge. These are supported by our five core values: welcome, trust, mutual transformation, celebration, and prayer.

Our vision for each refugee claimant is a world of welcome, a community of belonging, and a life of opportunity.

Q:  How would you describe some of the common lived experiences, systemic inequalities/inequities and other challenges faced by the people you work with?

Refugee claimants (known as asylum seekers globally) arrive in Canada as survivors. They bring their voice, lived experience, professional skills, languages, stories, and courage. They exhibit remarkable resilience.

They also carry two traumas: persecution from their country of origin and survival struggle from their migration journey to safety.

Arriving in Canada, they encounter a third trauma as they grapple to meet their basic needs: finding shelter, food, and appropriate-to-weather clothing. Culture shock is common as they adjust to the language, the transit system, the cost of living, and the strangeness of a new place.

Throughout all of this, their quest for refugee protection means engaging the extremely complex legal system fraught with multiple moving parts and players, which they must navigate, all the while trying to tell their story with clarity.

Q:  How would you describe the importance of community connections and a sense of acceptance and belonging for the people you work with?

The Kinbrace community’s transitional housing model is Canadians living with refugee claimants, side by side, as neighbours. The Host Community (volunteer families/individuals) lives permanently in three of the nine apartments and provides 24-7 welcome and community building. The other six apartments provide transitional housing for 40-50 refugee claimants annually. It is as much transformational housing as it is transitional housing. Relationships grow naturally through the experience of safety that is formed by living intentionally as neighbours. Refugee claimants with Canadians; refugee claimants with refugee claimants. Kinbrace’s five core values create genuine opportunities for acceptance and belonging. Eating together, living side by side, meeting critical needs in a timely way with expert help, and welcoming what refugee claimants bring and offer help create a transformative community.

Q:  What are some examples that give you hope for a better future for the people with who you work?

How refugee claimants are welcomed in BC from the moment they arrive has a significant impact on their long-term well-being and outcomes.

We were curious to understand what creates a better future for refugee claimants, so we asked them, “In your experience, when have you experienced a bright moment, a time when you felt affirmed, like you belonged, like the world was coming together for you?”

Their voices are captured in the 2021 Vancouver Foundation funded report From Humanitarian to Human: Changing the Way We Welcome Refugee Claimants. 

The report’s recommendations, when implemented, create better futures for refugee claimants. Examples of the recommendations include:

  • Increase the awareness of people in authority (such as RCMP, CBSA, lawyers, etc) that the power they hold and how they express it sets the course for refugee claimants arriving in Canada.
  • Emphasize community bonding within programs and services with and for refugee claimants.
  • Create additional transitional housing units to ensure newly arrived refugee claimants needing shelter are welcomed into housing that emphasizes their dignity and belonging.
  • Increase leadership roles and opportunities for refugee claimants to participate and contribute to the community.

Q:  How would you describe the value of developing relationships and collaboration in your work and organizations like Central City Foundation?

Collaboration among agencies – for example Kinbrace and Central City Foundation working together – creates outcomes for refugee claimants that neither organization could achieve on their own.

Q:  What has support from Central City Foundation meant for your organization?

The Kinbrace community feels heard as a community partner of Central City Foundation. CCF takes time to listen and understand, in-person. Over the years, Central City Foundation has invested in – and thereby amplified – Kinbrace’s commitment to community building: refugee claimants and Canadians flourishing together.

Community building is most strongly formed when people eat together. Not only are basic needs of hunger and nutrition met, but around food we learn about each other’s cultures, stories and dreams. Trust is shared and built. Central City Foundation provided funds for a gas BBQ, kitchen and dining wares, and most recently a six burner gas range.