Chilliwack residents Marty and Kristy van den Bosch are supporting a Ukrainian family. (Jennifer Feinberg/Chilliwack Progress)

Chilliwack residents Marty and Kristy van den Bosch are supporting a Ukrainian family. (Jennifer Feinberg/Chilliwack Progress)

Local group is helping displaced Ukrainians find safe haven in Chilliwack

‘Chilliwack Emergency Host Families’ is matching local hosts with Ukrainian individuals, families fleeing war

A local Facebook group is helping displaced Ukrainians find safe haven in Chilliwack.

The ‘Chilliwack Emergency Host Families’ is an online group linking locals who are offering temporary accommodations, with Ukrainians coming to Canada to escape the Russian invasion.

Chilliwack resident Marty van den Bosch joined the local group, and others, with the aim of finding a family they could support.

“Watching the crisis unfold in Ukraine, and hearing that many citizens were fleeing the war, I wanted to see how we could help,” he said.

After talking it over with his wife, Kristy, they decided to clear out a space in their basement suite to make room for the family of three, a couple with a child who arrived last week and are settling in nicely.

It’s not the first time the van den Bosches have sponsored a displaced family. In 2015 they had a very successful year of supporting a Syrian family, the Hadlas.

Now they have opened their home again, but with a much less formal process.

“After some online messaging, and exchanging of basic information, we found a family that were a great fit for our city, and the basic, shared accommodation we could offer.”

The role of host families is providing a safe place for those fleeing the conflict, with a roof over their heads, and a place to sort out how they will settle in Canada.

“We will be helping them get set up with school, driver’s licences, language studies, job hunting – and anything else they’ll need to settle in successfully,” he said.

There has been solid interest shown by Canadians in helping Ukrainians, thanks to the federal government’s efforts to expedite the process of resettlement with visas.

“I think there are a lot of people who want to do this,” van den Bosch said.

Why does he think they are willing to help?

“The primary driver is that people are getting bombed and killed,” he replied. “Now no matter where you stand politically on what’s happening over there, the reality is Ukrainian citizens, other humans, are in a crisis and they need somewhere to live.”

What about the notion that as a country we should help Canadians first?

“We are already helping Canadians,” he said.

“We can do both,” Kristy van den Bosch added.

Before their family even arrived in Chilliwack, the father had already secured some work.

They highly recommend becoming hosts to anyone considering it.

“If you have anything from as little as an empty bedroom and willingness to share, to having a suite or home available for a couple months, you can help out an individual or family escape a crisis and start a new life here.”

Chilliwack resident Bradley Gionet is the administrator, and the heart and soul of the ‘Chilliwack Emergency Host Families’ Facebook page.

Gionet’s own family decided to help Ukrainians after news of the conflict erupted a few months ago.

“It’s just the way my family has always been, if we can help, we go for it.”

Combing through the many registered charities and Facebook groups to make actual connections with people who wanted to come to Canada was “daunting,” for anyone. There were no centralized databases.

“Scouring all these groups, I saw people looking for community matches in Chilliwack,” Gionet explained.

Right there and then he decided to repurpose the original host families page that he started last November. He switched the focus from flood response to local hosts offering temporary accommodations to those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

“So far I have personally helped match 14 sets of hosts with Ukrainians,” Gionet said.

He’s not part of a formal settlement group or agency, Gionet is just volunteering his time to help make the connections online, if they seem like they’d make a good match.

“Chilliwack has been very attractive to families who are coming from farming communities, or those looking to settle in the Lower Mainland, where housing is still a little cheaper than Vancouver,” he said.

A big draw is the plentiful number of jobs in the region, as almost every industry in every community is in need of skilled employees and workers of all kinds, Gionet said.

The temperate climate is also a factor.

Overall, the local page makes the whole process a lot more doable, and accessible to all.

“Especially since they don’t have to scroll through pages and pages,” Gionet said.

The local page is now being discovered by lots of Ukrainians, who are contacting prospective hosts in Chilliwack directly. Once a match is made, the posts get removed.

For anyone interested in offering accommodations, or a room, they can go the local ‘emergency hosts’ page, and post what they have to offer.

There is also ICanHelp.Host a global website helping to find homes for Ukrainians seeking shelter from the humanitarian crisis.

The United Way is offering support to displaced Ukrainians in B.C., including access to 24 hours a day phone service in Ukrainian and Russian, with information about food, shelter, financial, legal help and more through the 211 initiative.

Anyone without internet access can try to call the Ukrainian Canadian Congress at 1-866-942-4627, to get on a list to help.

RELATED: 3 Ukrainians land in Chilliwack

RELATED: Expedited visas made available to Ukrainians

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Chilliwack residents Marty and Kristy van den Bosch are supporting a Ukrainian family. (Jennifer Feinberg/Chilliwack Progress)

Chilliwack residents Marty and Kristy van den Bosch are supporting a Ukrainian family. (Jennifer Feinberg/Chilliwack Progress)