Friday, May 17, 2024

Syrian refugees evicted from subsidized housing in Colwood after racialized harassment

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A Syrian woman came to Canada to escape the ongoing strife in her homeland and was able to bring her husband and five children along with her. 

When Malakeh Hajj and her family arrived, they were able to attain subsidized housing in Colwood which allowed them to pay 30% of their low-income for shelter while they learned to speak English and found work. 

The subsidized housing they were able to get into was courtesy of Pacifica Housing’s Tamarack Close — a 28 unit complex meant for families.

After moving in and trying to get settled, the first of several tragedies befell the newcomers. 

In March, Hajj’s husband and her children’s father died suddenly of cancer and left the family without any income.

Following this, Hajj continued to try to learn English so she could take over as the provider for her children, but struggled with this while grieving the loss of her husband. 

Additionally, a close family friend, Dr. Hussein Dahab says the family have been the victims of several racist incidents and constant xenophobia from their neighbours in the Pacifica Housing complex they lived in, located on Wale Road in Colwood.  

“They have endured countless incidents of verbal abuse, including racial slurs and demands to go back to Syria, indicating that they are not welcome or wanted in Canada,” Dahab told Victoria Buzz. 

“Moreover, they have received multiple threats from their neighbours, leading them to install a surveillance camera in front of their home. The family has reported all instances of abuse to the housing complex, but unfortunately, their concerns were ignored and neglected,” he continued. 

Dahab says that all this consistent racism climaxed when a neighbour of theirs in the Pacifica Housing complex “broke into the family’s garage and entered their home to physically and verbally abuse them.”

Following this frightening incident for Hajj and her children, the housing organization reportedly issued a warning notice to this individual.

The family was disheartened by this response to a racially motivated incident.

Dahab says that Hajj was too frightened to call police about the incident, believing they would not do anything to aid her and may even worsen the situation. 

As if their lives hadn’t been hard enough, Hajj and her kids’ were about to be dealt another massive hurdle in leading successful and happy lives in Canada.

A neighbour of theirs had complained about noise to Pacifica Housing regarding the children playing too loud while outside.

This noise complaint would earn them an eviction notice from Pacifica and leave them effectively homeless, if it wasn’t for the help of other organizations trying to keep Hajj and her family safe. 

Meanwhile, their neighbour who had allegedly been racist towards the family and issued threats was merely issued a warning.

Shockingly, the complex only issued a warning notice to the neighbour while deciding to evict the family solely on the grounds that their children’s outdoor play was too loud,” Dahab said. 

Victoria Buzz reached out to Pacifica Housing for context of Hajj’s eviction and they provided the following statement:

“We are unable to comment on matters related to current or past tenancies, as it would be a breach of privacy. What we can share is that at Pacifica Housing, the primary objective is to keep our residents housed,” said Carolina Ibarra, CEO of Pacifica Housing.

“Evictions are always a last resort, and as per our Eviction Prevention policy, emergency short-term support services are offered to residents whose tenancies are at risk. These supports include assistance with budgeting, accessing the rent bank, and referrals to community services, as well as education related to the rights and responsibilities of tenants under the Residential Tenancy Act.”


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Following the eviction, Hajj and four of her children have been residing at the Island Travel Inn on Douglas Street in downtown Victoria while they look for a rental they can afford, but have had no luck in finding something within their price range. 

Hajj has also been struggling with getting healthy food for her children because of the fact their hotel room doesn’t have any way for them to cook food. 

“In the absence of government assistance, the local community has offered temporary shelter by providing a hotel room,” Dahab explained. “However, this is not a sustainable solution for their long-term well-being, especially for young children who are already suffering from trauma, having escaped a brutal war and recently lost their father.”

“They urgently need stable housing and support to rebuild their lives and heal from their past experiences.”

Hajj’s price range maxes out at $1,600 per month, but given that the average rental in Victoria is up to around $2,000, this has been difficult for her to do while she still works at learning English. 

She and her children only have until the end of October to remain at the hotel they are residing in and are able to stay there thanks to the Burnside Gorge Community Association and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. 

The Syrian family is on a waitlist with BC Housing to find somewhere to live that they can afford, but those wait times can be anywhere from two to eight years depending on your priority. 

Hussein says that Hajj and her children desperately need somewhere to live, for fear of becoming homeless in a city they are still newcomers in. 

mm
Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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