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Victoria looks to become more welcoming to newcomers

Victoria is working to ­implement a strategy to help ­newcomers to the city feel welcome, which could include ideas such as ­pairing newcomers with ­longtime residents.
An aerial view of downtown Victoria and Vic West. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria is working to ­implement a strategy to help ­newcomers to the city feel welcome, which could include ideas such as ­pairing newcomers with ­longtime residents.

Councillors endorsed a welcoming city strategy Thursday intended to bridge gaps between newcomers, which includes people coming to Victoria from other countries and elsewhere in Canada, and longtime residents.

City staff will work with community members on implementing the strategy, which was developed by a task force of diverse residents co-chaired by Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Sharmarke Dubow.

“We want to foster belonging and participation, so that everyone has a positive experience when they interact with city services, but also interact with the community at large,” Dubow said.

Implementing the strategy will be a collaborative process, and everyone has a role to play, he said.

When Kareece Whittle-Brown moved to Victoria from Jamaica in 2018, it was a “daunting experience,” she said. She felt isolated and didn’t know where to go for the information and services she needed.

“The programs exist. The people who need the programs exist. They just don’t know where to find them. They don’t know where they are,” she said.

She’d like to see a centralized place that helps newcomers access information and services available in the city.

Neuquinn Consulting developed a report on the welcoming strategy and an action plan for the city with more than 20 items, such as creating mentorship opportunities to pair newcomers with longtime residents, advocating for access to subsidized transportation and developing a visual identifier for businesses recognized as inclusive and ­welcoming.

The group engaged people in six virtual workshops, where about 75 per cent of people were immigrants and one-third of people had lived in the city for less than five years. Participants expressed frustration with a lack of access to information and a desire for more diverse ­representation.

The report says the fear and forced isolation of the pandemic has amplified existing issues. “The pandemic magnified inequalities, hostility, racism, discrimination, prejudice, oppression, and white privilege,” it says.

Newcomers lead to a more resilient economy, creating a diverse business sector, the report says.

Whittle-Brown said while the city works on implementing the strategy, every resident can start trying to make the city feel more welcoming by opening themselves to people they might not engage with normally. She said people are often naturally drawn to people who are similar to them, and challenged city residents to look for ­connections with people from different ­communities.

“We can put as many ­policies in place as we like and we can make the access easy, but we really need people to do the work,” she said.