With an influx of Syrian refugees on their way into B.C. – around 3,000 to be exact – one Vancouver developer is offering 12 units in an unused apartment complex to house some of them.
Owner of Westbank Corp Ian Gillespie said the “small-minded” conversation around Syrian refugees coming to Canada left a bad taste in his mouth, so he decided he needed to do something to help.
“The values didn’t represent the values of what I think it means to be Canadian and I felt like at the end of the day, if we describe what it is we do, it’s more than just the built environment, it’s about the social infrastructure and the humanity,” Gillespie told Vancity Buzz.
Above all, Gillespie wanted to send a message to Vancouverites: we’re one of the most multicultural cities in the world and that’s one of the reasons we’re considered one of the best places to live.
“Almost 96 per cent of us came from somewhere else at some point. Other than the aboriginal population, we all came from somewhere. This idea that we can pull up the drawbridge once we’re all settled is kind of perverse.”
The apartment units will be fully furnished and will be used as temporary two week accommodation until the refugees find permanent housing, at which time another batch will arrive. Gillespie says the apartments will be available for a minimum of four months.
Not everybody shares Gillespie’s vision. A recent survey from the Angus Reid Institute suggests 49 per cent of B.C. residents oppose the Syrian refugee resettlement plan in the wake of the Paris attacks that left 129 people dead.
Despite what figures might suggest, Gillespie says thinks the naysayers are in the minority.
“The negative comments that you read online is just a small segment of narrow minded people. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the vast bulk of people are really generous.”
Westbank’s body of work includes Vancouver’s Shangri-La hotel, the Woodward’s building, and the Shaw Tower.
Many other communities in the city have stepped up to the challenge of helping out Syrian refugees. A Vancouver synagogue recently raised $40,000 to sponsor an entire family.