Immigrating: Resources at Your Fingertips

The YMCA Newcomer Information Centre

Published March 2004. Some information in this article is outdated.

The YMCA Newcomer Information Centre (NIC) is located at 42 Charles Street East (three blocks from the intersection of Yonge and Bloor) in downtown Toronto. It is one of three NIC sites in Canada - the other two are located in Mississauga and Brampton.

The NICs have been operating for over two years and are federally funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The goal of the NICs is to provide newcomers access to relevant and up-to-date settlement information and referral services in order to facilitate the settlement of newcomers into Canada.

All three NIC locations also have the Language Assessment Centres for the LINC program (Language Instructions for Newcomers to Canada). To learn more about LINC, please refer to the ESL article and read the sidebar on page 12.

The YMCA NIC is an information and referral resource centre where newcomers can receive in-person assistance in finding specific settlement information in the GTA. The Centres also allow newcomers to access the information in a self-directed manner. The YMCA NIC staff speaks over 20 different languages and the Centre has a number of multilingual resources in the most common languages spoken by newcomers.

Katarina Canic, Director of the YMCA Newcomer Information Centre on Charles Street East, explains, "Over 70% of our clients are internationally-trained professionals, who have usually have post-secondary education in undergraduate to graduate degrees. These clients are highly skilled and experienced and tend to know what information they need. All they need is to be directed to where the information is. From here, they can access the Centre's computers/internet, resource materials and can attend any of the monthly Information Sessions. And once they know where these resources are, they tend to come back regularly and do their own research.

"We do get some newcomers who need more one-on-one counselling and assistance and if this is the case, our staff would refer them to one of the ISAP (Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program) Agencies in the GTA. These agencies provide more in-depth settlement services and are delivered by non-profit community agencies. The ISAP agencies also offer services in the predominant languages of the community, ie: Mandarin, Tamil, Russian or Spanish. The agencies also provide interpretation and translation, form-filling, follow-up, and orientation sessions, to a name a few of their services."
Here's what happens when you go to the YMCA Newcomer Information Centre for the first time.

Initial Intake and Registration

You sign in at the reception desk, and fill out some forms, which includes some basic personal information. Then an Information and Referral Specialist will take you on a quick tour of the Centre before sitting down with you to do an information-needs assessment. Many newcomers express 'settlement' as a top need and so referrals to ISAP agencies or other related service would be provided.

Canic explains, "We do an initial information needs assessment to identify what the initial needs are because in most cases clients will come in and say 'I want to find a job.' And they may not realize they have so many other immediate needs that they have to address in the first few months of arrival. So we try to address all those needs, direct them to the sources of information."

The Tour

In the waiting area, you will find brochures for the ISAP agencies as well as other organizations that will help you find health and housing services.

You will also find postings of current monthly events happening in the city or the country. Some postings simply inform you about community events which are a part of Canadian society, like Black History Month. Other postings tell you about upcoming NIC events and Information Sessions.

An example of a NIC Information Session, is "Your First Days to Toronto", which is a four-day session that is designed to help you understand general settlement information to establish yourself in your new country - in areas like health care, housing, immigration, education and employment.

Other YMCA NIC sessions offer insight into the Canadian culture and the way of life in Canada. The information helps newcomers feel connected to their new home by explaining what it is like to live in Canada.

"It's usually easy for people to get in touch with their own ethnic community," Canic explains. "That's done very quickly. But I think the next step for their settlement, for their integration, is to actually make a connection to the larger society. So our NIC sessions provide this general information about the community they have chosen to settle in."

Another NIC session, titled, 'Canada: Culture, Society & People' provides newcomers information about Canada, Ontario, Toronto and its neighbourhoods. Other NIC sessions feature external Guest Speakers providing information on 'Financial Obligations and Entitlements', covering topics like tax-filing obligations, residency status, Canada Child Tax Benefits and Goods and Services Tax Refunds.

The Guest Speaker information series at the YMCA NIC are two - three hour information sessions and cover topics like: professionals, including internationally-trained engineers and teachers, Credential Assessment, Your Legal Rights at Work and Housing. For instance, a recent session for Engineers featured a guest speaker from Professional Engineers Ontario and covered topics like the requirements for obtaining a professional engineering licence in Ontario, a description of the licencing procedure and application process, a discussion of what constitutes acceptable engineering experience and an overview of the engineering market, trends and opportunities.

Attendance to all of these sessions is good. Canic estimates between 10 and 30 people for the NIC Information Sessions. "The sessions with the guest speakers will sometimes attract a larger crowd," she says "Many of the internationally-trained professionals will sign up for these, because it relates to their future employment in their chosen profession. The guest speakers are doing more than just giving information, and there is lots of interaction and sharing of experiences. These sessions may be quarterly (four times a year) or monthly, depending on client need. Engineering, we do every third month. We're constantly monitoring needs and trends for our clients in order to set the most appropriate schedule of these sessions. We may decide to add another session the next month because the attendance has been high."

The NICs also have excellent resource libraries and work areas where you can do research and record information. You will find materials on education, training and further employment, plus special topic binders with listings of very specific programs or training that occur for a short period of time. The Centre also has video tapes in different languages from different agencies and from the government that cover topics like, employment, education, and life in Canada.

All around the work area are private offices. These are the LINC assessment offices where the listening/speaking portion of the assessments are done. The reading and writing assessments are done in a separate room which allows clients to concentrate on their work. The language assessments can vary depending on your language level.

NIC computersClients must book a time to use one of the eight NIC resource computers. Computers/Internet/Fax are generally available. But it gets busy from late morning to late afternoon. "That's when we tend to have waiting times because there aren't enough computers to accommodate," says Canic. "Mornings before 10 or 11 o'clock, it's not usually as busy. And certain days of the week can be busier than others.

"We have a partnership with Settlement.Org and with 211/ (Community Information Toronto). If somebody was to access our YMCA NIC website, they could automatically find out about 211 and Settlement.Org services and get linked to the websites through our 'Newcomer Settlement Services' portal. So the three of us work together in making sure that newcomers have access to settlement information, in person, by web and by phone. We have a different set of fact sheets divided into information categories. And each information fact sheet will have the main listing of websites, telephone numbers and a brief description of what you will find at each site. The information is constantly monitored and managed so that it is up to date and relevant."

'211' phone service is provided by Community Information Toronto - a multilingual phone service that works 24 hours, seven days a week. Newcomer services and information is one of their priorities. They have a number of languages available, and if they don't have the languages, they will contact the person back through a translator. They also have an interpreting service. They have a very extensive data base that is constantly updated, so they're probably the most up-to-date, in terms of general community resources and information.
Currently, this service is only available in the 416/GTA area.

How would Katarina Canic improve the services at the Newcomer Information Centre? "More computers would be a nice thing to have," she says, "to cut back on that 10 to 20 minute wait during peak times. Also, for many clients, the main settlement need is access to employment, specifically in their profession or trade. They'd like to get involved with some kind of professional/employment network to make connections, build relations in their profession/trade in order to assist them with their long-term employment goals. How do we fit into that process? It can be many different ways. We can have more specific sessions regarding the employment process, maybe provide the opportunity for newcomers to network and learn more about it from other experienced newcomers or guest speakers in their field.

"I think the dialogue has increased more around newcomers, specifically, for internationally-trained professionals, as we are seeing a lot more attention being placed in this area within every government level. Newcomers make up a large percentage of our city's population and of the country's overall population growth.
"The 2003 target was approximately set for 220,000 new immigrants and refugees and out of that total, half comes to Ontario, and half of that comes to Toronto. Toronto is the top destination for newcomers and so the YMCA NIC strives to do its best in delivering quality and relevant services to assist newcomers in settling into their new home."

Watch for an article on the CLTA Newcomer Information Centres in the next issue of Canadian Newcomer Magazine.

The YMCA Newcomer Information Centre is open:
Monday to Thursday 9am - 8pm
Friday 9am - 2pm
Saturday 10am - 2pm
YMCA Newcomer Information Centre
42 Charles Street East, 3rd Floor
Toronto, Ontario M4Y 1T4
Tel: 416-928-6690.

CLTA Newcomer Information Centres are open:
Monday, Wednesday 9.00 a.m. - 7.00 p.m.
Tuesday, Thursday 9.00 a.m. - 4.00 p.m.
Friday 9.00 a.m. - 12.30 p.m.
Saturday 9.00 a.m. - 12.00 noon

CLTA Newcomer Information Centre
100 Elm Drive West
Room 126
Mississauga, Ontario L5B 1L9
905-270-6000 ext 266

CLTA Newcomer Information Centre
Brampton Civic Centre
150 Central Park Drive, Suite 200
Brampton, Ontario L6T 1B4
905-791-6700 ext 301