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How to help newcomers to Toronto feel more at home

January 09, 2019 by United Way Greater Toronto

Greeting newcomers
Illustrations by Jamie Bennett

Navigating a new country can be a lonely and frustrating experience. Here’s what you can do to welcome new Canadians to your community

Whether it’s going to the dentist, borrowing a book from the library or buying groceries, newcomers to Toronto can struggle with tasks that may feel more routine for the rest of us. Here’s what you can do to help.

Welcoming newcomers

1. Be neighbourly

One of the biggest issues for newcomers is leaving behind friends and loved ones. Where someone lives can add to that social isolation because less-expensive housing might be farther away from city centres, meaning building new social circles can be challenging. Playing matchmaker to connect people from the same background or faith is a quick way help someone make new friends. Simply saying ‘hi’ to your new neighbours can help them forge new connections, but you can also get involved with welcome events at your local community centre—or even organize one yourself.

2. Hit the grocery store

Canadian supermarkets can be intimidating. New Canadians may struggle with things like recognizing different produce, finding familiar items like their kids’ favourite foods and navigating prices in a new currency. You can help a newly arrived family by playing host on their next trip to the store. Explain products and food labels that may be confusing, and point out foods that are typically Canadian, such as maple syrup on pancakes. The best way to connect with people who could use your shopping expertise is at settlement agencies or charities that support newcomers.

3. Speak up

Anyone who has tried to learn a new language knows it’s a hard-won skill. But newcomers to Toronto have the added challenge of needing communication skills quickly to find work and do everyday tasks, like ride the bus. If English or French is your first language, contact settlement agencies to volunteer as a conversation coach. Many community centres offer spaces to practice speaking skills — you may even learn a new language while you’re at it!

4. Share cold-weather clothing

Canadian snowstorms are brutal at the best of times, but if you don’t have the right winter clothes it’s a whole other level of misery. Fortunately, there are agencies in and around the GTA that provide warm clothing at little or no cost. Not-for-profit New Circles runs the largest clothing bank in Toronto. GLOW (Gently Loved Outfits to Wear) operates as a retail hub to preserve dignity for clients, but also provides emergency relief for people in immediate need. Donating your gently worn parkas and mitts to settlement agencies and thrift stores helps ensure that newcomers stay warm during the cold months. No matter where you’re from, it’s a whole lot easier to enjoy a Canadian winter if you have the right gear.

5. Work the paperwork

No one loves filling out forms, but applying for a social insurance number, opening a bank account and even getting a library card can be especially onerous for people who don’t yet speak fluent English or French. Offer to help fill out the correct forms or, even better, accompany your new neighbours to the bank or Service Canada Centre.

6. Just hang out

Once people are somewhat settled in their new homes, figuring out what to do for fun becomes a higher priority. Neighbours can help by throwing a block party, or introducing newcomers to zoos, parks, museums and art galleries. And be sure to ask what they used to enjoy doing for fun in their last home—you may even find new ideas for things you can enjoy together.

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