Every day CCI Ottawa works with numerous partners to ensure newcomers are provided with the tools, resources and care to reach their full potential. Every month, we want to highlight for you the work of another agency. This month, the Ottawa Mennonite Refugee Assistance.

 The mandate of OMRA

The mission of OMRA Shelter Corporation is to provide safe, clean, subsidized housing either in OMRA-owned townhouses or by providing rent subsidies in private landlord-owned properties.

A little history

OMRA was started by the Ottawa Mennonite Church (OMC) in 2001. We were motivated by Jesus’ example of caring for the vulnerable. For many of us, the words of Matthew 24:25-40 (ESV) are important: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?

OMRA’s work with refugee families

The Ottawa Mennonite Church already had a 20-year tradition of sponsoring refugees to Ottawa, and at that time, the need for housing in Ottawa was for large refugee families. Quickly, several other local churches also became involved with OMRA by participating in the fundraising and joining the OMRA Board. Approximately three years ago, we changed our model to support small refugee families in safe, affordable rental accommodations not owned by OMRA, where the families would not be forced to move out after their rent subsidy was finished. This has allowed us to help a lot more families.

Challenges with housing and the benefit of subsidies

The rents in Ottawa have increased significantly in the last couple of years without an appropriate increase in rent support, so that small families cannot afford to pay rent. After their one year of support through a sponsorship group or through the federal Resettlement Assistance Program, the situation often becomes even worse. We feel our support is important and that we are making a difference. Homelessness is prevented, and the families can worry less about finances and can focus on working to adapt to live in Canada by spending time learning English or new skills. In the end, we believe financial support with rent will help the families become independent and successful more quickly.

Working with clients and staff at CCI Ottawa

Heng Chau at Reception House refers suitable clients to OMRA. As long as we have the capacity and budget, we will work with Reception House to determine a suitable rent subsidy and find additional furnishing for the apartment such as lamps, bookcases, coffee tables, small kitchen appliances, etc. As much as we are able, we will visit the family periodically. If we see anything of concern, we will contact the CCI caseworker for their support. By working together, we can help the families get a good start to life in Canada. As we usually subsidize clients from CCI Ottawa for three years, it is very satisfying to see the families adapt to life in Ottawa and become independent. It is a pleasure working with the dedicated staff at CCI Ottawa.

Supporting OMRA helps newcomer families

OMRA does its fundraising by selling grocery cards from Loblaws (including Superstore, and Independents), Farmboy, and Metro (including Food Basics). We receive a small percentage back from the stores for each grocery card sold, and we use these funds to subsidize the rents of CCI clients monthly. While fundraising has been primarily done through a number of churches, we have started to expand to include any organization or group of people. We are delighted that some of the staff at CCI Ottawa, for example, are starting to participate in the Grocery Card fundraising. We also accept funds donated directly to OMRA Shelter Corporation, but we are a Canadian non-profit corporation, so we cannot issue tax receipts (yet!).

A special thank you to Doreen Dyck for providing this information.