Steve Milum stands in front of the house he will give to a Syrian family rent free but he’s asking for the community to chip in through a GoFundMe.com page

Steve Milum stands in front of the house he will give to a Syrian family rent free but he’s asking for the community to chip in through a GoFundMe.com page

Rent-free Rupert home for Syrian refugees

The community of sponsors for Syrian refugees is growing and now there is a third house available for a family.

The community of sponsors for Syrian refugees is growing and now there is a third house available for a family.

Two separate groups interested in sponsorship found each other in Prince Rupert and they are now working together. Steve Milum, the conservation manager for the North Pacific Cannery, was originally with a Facebook group looking to sponsor when he heard about Kristi and John Farrell and Ray Pedersen’s efforts.

The two groups combined and began to hold meetings four weeks ago. Since then, Milum has offered up a house for one of the Syrian families to live in — rent free — for one year. He took ownership of the home next to his own residence in December, partly because he didn’t want the view from his back deck to change and with a new neighbour he wouldn’t be able to control what they did with the property.

Milum saw an opportunity to provide the home to one of the Syrian families expected to come to the city.

“It gives me a year to figure it out. I’m going to fix it up, paint it up, I’ll make it solid and nice to live in for that year or several years but if they move out I’ll do a bigger renovation,” he said.

The home has three floors and three bedrooms. Milum needs to do some structural renovations, such as sorting out the sagging roof, and there is a leak that needs to be fixed. If he has the time and money he will also pull out the old carpet.

The Farrells and Pedersen also have homes to offer for the other two families. The minimum target is to bring three families to Prince Rupert, but if the group finds another house to offer a family and enough funds, they would like to sponsor up to five families.

At the meeting next week the sponsors and members of the group will divide into committees for fundraising, in-kind support for furniture and clothing, etc., social support and housing. The sponsorship will also stay in Prince Rupert, rather than going with the Mennonite option in Abbotsford.  Instead St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has partnered with the group as the most efficient option. The church is an agent of the Canadian Lutheran World Relief, which has an agreement with the Canadian government to sponsor refugees, which it has been doing since 1946.

The Lutheran church congregation in Prince George started the sponsorship process in November and a family arrive in less than five months to the community. “The church (in Prince Rupert) hasn’t done anything like this before,” said Jim Whaley, the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

“One of the benefits of working through the Canadian Lutheran World Relief is the timeline is cut way down. Normally if you do a group of five, a private sponsorship group, it can take over a year,” Whaley said.

They are looking at the option of the blended visa office referred refugee (BVOR) program to speed up the process and to cut expenses — the Canadian government foots six months of financial support, which is estimated at $13,500.

Milum has already started his own individual fundraising for the family he plans to have move into his home. He was told that GoFundMe.com is the easiest way to raise funds and in six days he has raised $2,890 towards his $20,000 goal.

The group has calculated that it will cost at least $50,000 to sponsor a family of five, including accommodation, buying furniture, electronics, appliances and day to day support. The Canadian Lutheran World Relief agency offers anticipated budgets on its website and gives an estimated total of approximately $30,000 for a family of five.

“We’re only legally required to sponsor them for a year but realistically to learn a language, get a well paying job, or a job that pays well enough for a five person family, may be hard, so it might be worth holding some funds until they have a decent job then we have a slush fund,” he said.

Milum is asking for $20,000 and if he receives more or the family he sponsors doesn’t require that much financial support he will distribute the funds to the other families or look at the option of sponsoring a fourth or fifth family.

He wants to give an opportunity to people who have none and to see what they do with it, and the family will have a year of rent-free living and neighbourly support to help them get on their feet. After that year is up, then Milum will decide what to do with the house.

“It’s up to them I guess. If they have a job and they like Rupert. If they want to negotiate a rental agreement. If they like the home, great. If they want to move to another place that suits them better that’s fine too,” he said.

If all goes according to plan the first family could arrive in the spring. He has a quite a bit of work to do on the house before then.