The Winnipeg-based Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) is a non-profit organization. It offers housing and support services to refugee families. In 2019, IRCOM launched a project to improve their ability to measure the success of their services.
The project gave them tools that they can share with other organizations. It also confirmed that holistic services are necessary to ensure the full integration of refugee families into Canadian society.
Providing holistic support for new refugee families is an effective way to facilitate their integration into society.
Integrating refugee families benefits both them and the community as a whole.
Housing, education and connection to the community are all areas that need special attention.
Project scope and expected outcomes
Helping vulnerable families succeed in Canada
The National Housing Strategy identifies newcomers to Canada and refugees as vulnerable populations. Refugee families face significant challenges to integrating into Canadian society. Organizations providing settlement services, like the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), are vital to helping refugee families succeed.
IRCOM is a community-based non-profit that offers an innovative housing service for refugee families across 2 housing complexes. Their transitional housing model also provides wrap-around programming. This supports tenants while they build knowledge and capacities relevant to living in Canada. After a 3-year stay in IRCOM housing, tenants move into the broader community.
Measuring the success of IRCOM’s housing model
In 2019, IRCOM launched a planning project with help from CMHC’s Research and Planning Fund. The project’s goal was to build IRCOM’s capacity for research and evaluation to understand their housing model’s effectiveness.
IRCOM’s planning project addresses a key gap in understanding how providing affordable, transitional housing with wrap-around programming impacts refugee families’ resettlement. It enabled IRCOM to increase their capacity in research and evaluation activities to measure outcomes. This will allow them to make data-driven program decisions to improve their housing model.
Key factors in improving integration outcomes for refugee families
The project involved literature reviews of settlement and integration indicators and outcomes. It also involved a literature review on best practices for data management and data quality. The literature reviews on indicators and outcomes focused on 6 specific themes:
- language proficiency
- financial literacy
- childcare and early childhood education
- after-school youth programs
- community connection
Language proficiency, housing affordability and financial literacy
Proficiency in an official language is one of the most important contributing factors to successful integration. That’s because it allows newcomers to participate in the social, economic, political and cultural aspects of society. Research findings suggest a strong link between immigrants’ language skills and their labour-market outcomes. Knowledge of an official language affects a newcomer’s access to the labour market and, therefore, their earnings.
The literature on the housing outcomes of newcomers to Canada revealed that lack of affordability is the main housing issue for many. Newcomers have to dedicate a large part of their income to housing. This leaves them with very little to cover the costs of other basic needs.
Education to increase financial literacy can help individuals and families make well-informed decisions that will contribute to their financial well-being.
Education, after-school programs and social connectedness
Immigrant children are more likely to face stressors in early childhood such as low family income and lack of exposure to the English language. Such stressors can affect their ability to start school ready to learn. High-quality early childhood education programs have the potential to increase school readiness in immigrant children.
After-school programs offer a range of activities. This includes participation in sports and the arts, community engagement, and help with homework. These activities and services can have many positive outcomes. The research showed that involvement in community programs gives youth opportunities to socialize and access to experiences that help develop academic skills.
Social connectedness and participation in one’s community benefit individuals and the community as a whole. The following all help determine an individual’s levels of social connectedness and community engagement:
- feelings and attitudes about their social status in the community
- sense of belonging
- level of trust in others and institutions
- experiences of discrimination
- perceptions of safety
An individual’s sense of belonging, for example, has been positively associated with their desire to contribute to their community by:
- ·voting in elections
- participating in group activities
Tools to share and funding for a follow-up project
IRCOM’s planning project highlights the need for holistic, wrap-around support for new refugee families. The project also created many valuable resources for IRCOM and increased their capacity for research and evaluation.
IRCOM created tools that they can share with similar organizations that want to enhance their own research capacity and quality. Organizations that provide housing and other services could benefit from understanding how to measure success and from evaluating the effectiveness of their programs.
IRCOM also received funding from the Research and Planning Fund for a follow-up research project, which started in March 2020. The goals:
- measure factors that contribute to newcomers’ successful transition to appropriate and affordable housing
- measure social factors that contribute to the successful integration of refugees into Canadian society
Project Team: Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba
Project Collaborators / Partners:
Community Engaged Research on Immigration Network/University of Winnipeg
Immigration Research West
Institute of Urban Studies (University of Winnipeg)