We are living in interesting times. It is beginning to feel like back to the future. The sector has been bombarded with changes over the last couple of years as we experience significant changes at the policy level as well as at the program level.
Practitioners in the field know all too well the increasing demands for services. But not the same old as we've delivered over the past decades. Immigrants and Refugees have service and program needs that run the gamut – from sophisticated, multi-layered interventions to meet the employment and business language needs of the highly educated and skilled to the complex interventions to meet the health and social needs of those who have spent more than a generation in refugee camps.
At the same time we are seeing a multiplicity of changes to our immigration program from selection to settlement and integration. We are witnessing a realignment of Canada's immigrant settlement patterns as new immigrants increasingly are destined for the Western provinces instead of Ontario. And, intra-provincially we are seeing a shift from the large urban centres to smaller city centres. While most of this is economically driven- jobs, affordable and available housing – other factors also come into play. The increasing availability of services in those smaller centres, the sense of welcome that new arrivals experience, issues of transportation all play important roles in the decision of newcomers to locate outside the traditional geographic areas like Toronto. This is what the research is telling us.
Making Ontario Home (MOH) is research commissioned by OCASI to talk to immigrants (broadly defined) and refugees who arrived in Canada over the past decade. A first study of its kind in Ontario with the centre piece being a survey of 2500 respondents, the research reinforces what we in the sector know. Newcomers to Canada and Ontario need and use settlement services and integration programs. That programs that facilitate their settlement, especially employment support interventions like the bridging and mentorship programs are measurably effective. The research also tells us that settlement and integration agencies make a meaningful difference in the lives of new immigrants and refugees.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. This moment in our sector's history, as with the whole non-profit sector demands an injection of new thinking. It demands creative thinking. In times of austerity as now we can't afford to get left behind as governments and other sector funders make hard decisions as the funding envelopes continue to shrink. Although difficult we need an honest debate about our sector here in Ontario. We need to speak truth about partnerships, about mergers about a realignment of the sector that will result in effective, quality, in-time interventions that lead to successful settlement and integration for the individuals and communities with whom we work. These are the kinds of conversations I intend to have with you in this corner of the reborn OCASI In the Field.
I invite you to check in this corner every month for information, for what's happening in our sector and for good conversations about us and how we're moving forward as an effective and necessary part of Ontario's social safety net.