Restricted Access: The Role of Social Capital in Mitigating Absolute Homelessness among Immigrants and Refugees in the GVRD

Article excerpt

Abstract

The housing patterns of newcomers mark a primary indicator for their successful integration. However, different groups of people have varied access to the stock of housing in Canada. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role that social capital plays in housing trajectories of immigrants with particular attention to the experiences of refugee claimants. In this paper we draw upon the results of a 2004-2005 study on the profile of absolute and relative homelessness among immigrants, refugees, and refugee claimants in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). We highlight the importance of social networks in the housing careers of newcomers, and argue that access to social networks varies according to the mode of entry for immigrants (e.g., skilled immigrants vs. refugees). We find that refugee claimants are particularly vulnerable, given their combination of uncertain legal status, lack of official language ability, and unfamiliarity with Canadian society. They are the most likely of all newcomers to "fall between the cracks" of the housing system. We discuss the benefits of social capital for immigrants and refugees, especially the key role that social capital plays in the integration process.

Resume

Les preferences des nouveaux arrivants en matiere de logement constituent un indicateur primaire pour la reussite de leur integration. Cependant, l'acces au parc de logements au Canada varie selon les groupes. Le but de cet article est d'examiner le role clue le capital social joue clans les trajectoires des immigrants en matiere de logement, avec une attention particuliere pour l'experience de demandeurs du statut de refugie. Darts cet article nous puisons a partir des resultats d'une etude entreprise en 2004-2005 sur le profil du sans abrisme absolu et relatif parmi les immigrants, les refugies et les demandeurs de statut de refugie clans le District Regional du Grand Vancouver (DRGV). Nous soulignons l'importance des reseaux sociaux dans le parcours de nouveaux arrivants en matiere de logement et soutenons que l'acces aux reseaux sociaux varie selon le mode d'entree des immigrants (par ex., les immigrants qualifies a l'oppose des refugies). Nous constatons clue les demandeurs de statut de refugie sont particulierement vulnerables, etant donne qu'ils combinent en eux-memes l'incertitude du statut juridique, des faiblesses par rapport aux langues officielles, et le manque de familiarite avec la societe canadienne. De tousles nouveaux arrivants, ils sont les plus susceptibles de passer entre les mailles du filet du systeme de logement. Nous traitons des avantages du capital social pour les immigrants et les refugies, surtout le role cle que joue le capital social dans le processus d'integration.

Introduction

"Vancouver Housing Least Affordable" pronounces a recent headline, (l) According to a Royal Bank of Canada report, housing costs for the average detached bungalow now account for 57.5 per cent of average pre-tax household income in Vancouver. (2) Rapidly rising prices in the housing market are having a predictable impact, placing a higher proportion of the population at risk of homelessness. (3) The severe challenges faced by the Canadian-born population in gaining access to affordable housing are compounded for newcomers. This paper will draw from a 2004-2005 study on the profile of absolute and relative homelessness among immigrants, refugees, and refugee claimants in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). (4) We examine the connections between (relative and absolute) homelessness and immigrant settlement. We concentrate on the important issue of social capital, and how it can be used to help newcomers settle into Canada. However, we also argue that newcomers have variable access to social networks (and therefore social capital). Given the combination of uncertain legal status, lack of official language ability, and unfamiliarity with Canadian society, refugee claimants are the most likely of all newcomers to "fall between the cracks" in terms of access to relevant social networks, and have limited means to offset barriers to finding housing. …