A Syrian refugee family has found a home in Toronto, thanks to the persistence of a parish, a benevolent property developer and a timely intervention by the Holy Spirit.
St. Thomas, Huron Street’s refugee committee was having a difficult time finding an apartment for the family of five, who landed in Toronto in September after fleeing Syria for Turkey.
Michael Rowland, a member of the committee, says it was a major challenge to find suitable accommodations for the family in Toronto’s tight housing market. “It’s a huge challenge and very expensive,” he says.
Mr. Rowland and another committee member searched the Internet, enlisted the help of a real estate agent and went door to door, but had no luck. The apartments were either too small, too expensive or too far away.
To compound the problem, Mr. Rowland and his colleague were working under a tight deadline. The refugee family had to leave the church’s rectory, where they were temporarily staying, by Jan. 1 so that repairs could be made to the building for the parish’s new incoming rector.
“I was beginning to despair and lost many a sleepless night worrying about this,” recalls Mr. Rowland. “That’s when the Holy Spirit intervened.”
The committee was working with AURA (Anglican United Refugee Alliance), the sponsorship agreement holder. Upon learning of the problem, AURA advised the committee members to tell everybody they knew that they were looking for housing for a refugee family. Their best chance of finding an apartment, they were told, was through personal networks and connections.
It worked. Mr. Rowland, who is a member of the Toronto Chamber Choir, happened to mention to a fellow chorister that he was looking for accommodations for a refugee family. It turned out that the chorister was also a member of a refugee sponsorship committee that had just welcomed a family from Syria two weeks earlier.
Shortly after that conversation, Mr. Rowland received an email from his friend in the choir, saying that she had found an apartment for St. Thomas’s refugee family. It was a two-bedroom apartment near the corner of Yonge and Davisville in mid-town Toronto and, astonishingly, it was free for a year. It even came with an underground parking space.
“It was incredible,” recalls Mr. Rowland.
He took the family, whose last name is Murad, to look at it that day and they were delighted. There were other Syrian refugees living in the building and they soon struck up conversations. They moved in on Dec. 30 and two of the three children enrolled in the local public school.
Looking back on the episode, Mr. Rowland praises the building’s landlord, O’Shanter Property Development, for its compassion and generosity. The company’s motto is “Managing to do the right thing” and it has provided free accommodation for other refugees in Toronto. The company is a family-owned business managed by Adam and Jonathan Krehm.
“It’s a sustained commitment that they’ve made,” says Mr. Rowland, referring to the Krehm brothers. “It’s so transformative for refugees. It’s a fundamental need that they’re addressing. They don’t proclaim it loudly but it was extremely heartfelt and fundamental to their values.”
It was the first time that Mr. Rowland participated in refugee resettlement and he says he would do it again. “To me, outreach work is the most significant manifestation and connection I make to the Holy Spirit. There are other ways, of course, but the rubber really hits the road in how we engage and support our broader community.”