BARRHEAD - Barrhead and District Family Community Support Services (FCSS) executive director Karen Gariepy is concerned that the new arrivals to the community as part of the Rural Renewal Stream (RRS) will have trouble acclimatizing, primarily due to the lack of housing.
And she suggested to Town of Barrhead councillors during their June 26 meeting that they might want to look at the land-use bylaw, to make it easier for property owners to add secondary suites.
The RRS enables rural communities with less than 100,000 people to attract and retain immigrants by working with local employers and settlement-providing organizations to offer employment and support services, including housing, language training, health care, and education.
The stream requires that communities apply for designation through the province and have it for two years, with the option to extend for a third.
Barrhead (town and county) received its accreditation in early November.
The program is part of the province's Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP). The AAIP is part of the province's effort to combat the province's labour shortage. It does this by helping employers recruit foreign nationals to apply for jobs.
Once a community receives a RRS designation, a local council or a settlement organization can endorse a potential immigrant by writing a letter of support. A prospective worker could then use the letter as part of an immigration application package.
As of the end of May, 31 candidates have been endorsed through the program.
So far, Gariepy said the candidates, most of whom are from India, have yet to arrive, but she expects that to change soon, adding the first of the workers should be coming within the next two months.
Why that is important to FCSS, she said, is because the organization will be the first point of contact when they arrive.
"We will help them integrate into the community, direct them to resources, provide welcome baskets, parenting, whatever they need," she said.
However, Gariepy said she is concerned that there will not be appropriate housing or parenting and childcare resources available when they arrive.
One of the reasons why FCSS is so worried that the community may not have enough resources is that they do not have any information on the individual needs of the Rural Renewal Stream candidates.
"We don't know if they are coming in with families or if they have a place to live, whether they are going to share accommodations or whether their prospective employer will house them," she said.
Gariepy added that most individuals coming to the community through the program would work in retail or food services businesses.
"Our concern is that if we cannot accommodate or help them feel integrated within a year, Barrhead will just be a stepping stone for them, and they will move on to another community," she said.
Coun. Ty Assaf questioned why FCSS is concerned about finding housing for the workers, saying he thought it was up to the prospective employer to find appropriate lodgings.
"Back in the day, when I did request and sponsor foreign workers, I was only bringing in that one worker and not their whole family. Is that still not the case?" he asked.
Gariepy replied while some of the workers would be single, there would be those with families and, as such, would need additional services, including childcare.
"This is meant to be a fast-track to permanent residency. That is the goal, so it is more complicated than just getting a work visa," she added. "And if we can't meet their needs, they are going to move on. That is not something we want that to happen. We want them to become part of our community."
Coun. Dausen Kluin asked if FCSS had any accommodations lined up for the workers and their families, noting the rental market is very tight.
Gariepy said if there are one or two individuals who come without families, they might be able to find room-and-board type of accommodations for them, but after that, it starts to get dicey.
"I know there are people who want to do secondary suites, but that will depend on what happens with the land-use bylaw and if it is allowed," she said.
The municipality is reviewing the land-use bylaw through the municipal development committee (MPC).
However, Gariepy said that those looking for rental accommodations in Barrhead are in a challenging situation.
She noted that recently a domestic worker came to FCSS for help after finding work in Barrhead.
Gariepy said they were fortunate to find a temporary solution, but the person is again looking for a place to live.