Host family backlog leaves Ukrainians scrambling to find homes

CBC News

Host family, staff shortages force Ukrainians to find housing through social media

Katarina Szulc · CBC News · Posted: Aug 10, 2022 8:00 AM MT | Last Updated: 2 hours ago

Some Ukranian newcomers are struggling to find accommodations in Edmonton due to a backlog on the main host family resource.

Sofiia Postolatii, 24, fled Ukraine and came to Canada in April. Although Postolatii managed to secure a job in Edmonton after having worked with the Canadian Armed Forces in the Ukrainian city of Sumy, she says finding housing has been a big challenge.

"I still feel like I am homeless. [Over] these five months, I changed more than five places where I stayed and it's not because I'm picky or choosy or something," Postolatii said.

After moving to Canada, Postolatii worked as an intern with the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program. But once the internship ended, she had to find something else.

Eventually, after working odd jobs such as cleaning and serving roles, Postolatii managed to secure a position working in politics, with a local MP.

Without a driver's license, she moved multiple times to live close to work.

The provincial government-endorsed source for finding host families and applying to be one is the Ukrainians in Alberta website.

But Postolatii says many of her peers now avoid using the resource as finding housing through it takes a lot of time and sometimes housing-seekers don't receive responses to their messages.

"I didn't try websites because it's gonna take more time. Facebook is faster in this way. If you're contacting some websites, then you have to depend on them," Postolatii said.

The website is run by Catholic Social Services (CSS) and the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA).

Sarosh Rizvi, executive director of the AAISA, said between a shortage of host families and staffing issues with the website, a backlog has amounted.

"There was quite a bit of delay. And the reality was, it was the staffing delays in terms of trying to do everything and not having enough capacity to do it," he said.

Due to the backlog, many Ukrainians seeking host family accommodations, including Postolatii, turned to Facebook.

She said she managed to find a new host family but the vetting process to ensure her safety was difficult.

"I had many single men message me offering a room, and maybe they are nice and honest but I also get worried that it would be unsafe for me and I don't have anyone here to come help me," she said.

Rizvi said despite its convenience, there are a number of safety concerns that come with new arrivals finding living accommodations through social media

"The reality is a lot of people are going through social media connections. So, we're trying to mitigate the risk. We've been seeing a lot of issues with people really being taken advantage of," he said.

Rizvi said the official vetting process, which prevents security risks and helps protect people, is better for Ukrainians and host families.

CBC News reached out to the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and the Ministry of Labour and Immigration for comment last week but neither provided a response.

According to Rizvi, staffing shortages have recently been addressed and he believes the website will improve.

"Now the staff are solely working on that and managing the email and site to make sure people are getting proper responses," he said.