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Kelowna group launching service to help connect Ukrainian refugees with landlords

A rally for Ukraine March 20, 2022 at the Harvey Avenue pedestrian overpass in Kelowna.

A Kelowna volunteer group that has been operating since the war in Ukraine began is expanding its services to connect refugees to housing amid a crisis in the Central Okanagan.

Kelowna Stands With Ukraine is a grassroots organization that has been funding military supplies, first aid kits and even funded plane tickets so local residents can be a part of the war overseas.

READ MORE: Local businesses donate thousands to Kelowna Ukrainian military support group

Next week, founder Denys Storozhuk said they will also be launching a communication service to help Ukrainians find accommodations in the Central Okanagan, which currently has less than a 1% vacancy rate. Many have settled in the Central Okanagan temporarily and were only expected to be housed for a few months but as the war continues, these people will need long-term accommodations as well, he said.

Thus far, the group has been helping Ukrainians find temporary accommodations for free, or for a discount, for a few weeks to a few months and many are able to find apartments for themselves afterwards, he said. With this new program, starting in the fall, Kelowna Stands with Ukraine will act as a middle man between the landlord and refugees and will help with communication and conflict resolution should it arise. It will also source housing that can be offered for Ukrainians at a discount.

READ MORE: Ukrainian refugees continue settling in Okanagan

“We have Ukrainians coming and most of the people who’ve came have run out of their free accommodation allowance and they need to find permanent accommodation now,” he said.

More than 200 Ukrainians have arrived in Kelowna so far and more will arrive by the end of the year.

“Price is high, vacancy rate is low, so what it means for each offer, there are multiple contenders and I’m a landlord myself and I know how hard it is to choose tenants… and the problem for Ukrainians is they don’t have previous references to provide to landlords so our idea is as an organization we’ll provide some guarantees to the landlords then they’ll have a higher chance of selecting our candidates,” he said. “We have a few landlords that approached us directly and specified they would like to do a discount for Ukrainians.”

The idea is after a few months, people are able to find a job and find more permanent housing to integrate more into the community, he said.

“Kelowna in particular is a very expensive place,” he said, adding there is a shortage of labour here that these refugees could help fill.

“We're trying to shift our focus a little bit to help the community and build the community of Ukrainians coming to Kelowna,” he said.

READ MORE: Escaping from ‘hell to heaven,’ Ukrainian refugee recounts survival and arrival to Kelowna

More information can be found on the Kelowna Stands with Ukraine Facebook page and group.

At this time, most Ukrainians that are being helped through Kelowna Community Resources have been able to get accommodations through friends and family, said Catelin Mitchell, director of services, with Kelowna Community Resources.

Since May 12, the organization has assisted a total 152 individuals, 96 adults and 56 children under the age of 18.

READ MORE: Kelowna man heading to Ukraine to provide support

The agency has been connecting refugees with other grassroots organizations to help assist with housing needs. Its role in terms of housing pertains to government-assisted refugees, like those from Afghanistan.

In 2020 and 2021, they assisted more than 1,500 newcomers so helping 152 individuals isn't a large number, she said.

During the pandemic, they’ve seen growth in demand for their services, including employment and family services.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24, Kelowna Stands With Ukraine will be celebrating Ukrainian Independence Day. The event kicks off at 4:30 p.m. with a car rally before a parade by The Sails starting at 5:30 p.m. 

At 8:30 p.m., the city will light up The Sails in Ukraine’s colours.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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