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In 2022, Jen van Ierssel and her husband found themselves wanting to help Ukrainian newcomers who had recently landed in Canada, fleeing the conflict in their country. 

With an empty basement apartment, Jen reached out to COSTI, interested in participating in the Ukrainian Housing Host program. Following a due diligence vetting process, they were approved to be a housing-host. 24 hours later, the van Ierssels welcomed a Ukrainian family of five into their home. Helping the family to settle in, Jen pointed out all the nearby necessities – grocery stores, banks, public libraries, restaurants, and parks. Within two weeks, one of the family members found employment.  

The Need for Ukrainian Housing Hosts 

An average of 200 Ukrainians continue to arrive in Toronto daily. Approval rates for the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) visa remains high – over 90%. Over 800,000 visa applications have been granted, and the number continues to climb.  

To date, roughly 166,000 Ukrainians have come to Canada through the CUAET program – accounting for around 21% of the emergency visas granted. Ukrainians approved under CUAET have until March 2024 to enter Canada; as that deadline approaches, agencies like COSTI anticipate that number will rapidly climb. 

Finding Community 

While not every Ukrainian newcomer needs a housing host --- some have family or friends in the Greater Toronto Area --- many arrive in Canada with nowhere to go. Those arriving in Canada under CUAET can receive short-term accommodation of up to two weeks through a federal program administered by the Canadian Ukrainian Immigrant Aid Society (CUIAS).  

However, a two week stay goes by quickly, and between adjusting to their arrival in Canada and commencing their settlement process, many Ukrainian newcomers simply do not have enough time to find a rental apartment.  

This is where COSTI’s Housing Host program comes in. The program is intended to bridge the two-week government-provided accommodation and permanent housing, Ukrainian newcomers stay with their housing host family as they continue to work with a COSTI-assigned settlement worker who helps them with a settlement plan and to find permanent housing. 

Potential hosts and newcomers alike should find comfort in the vetting process --- prospective hosts undergo a thorough due diligence process to ensure the match is a good fit all around. As part of the intake process, potential hosts specify the type of accommodations that are available, the length of time accommodations will be available and other considerations. 

In the case of the van Ierssels, they and the Ukrainian family they hosted found mutual benefit in the Housing Host program. Both families were able to learn of each other's cultures and customs. There was great comfort in knowing that the young children could grow and gain confidence in a safe and nurturing environment, while making new friends and improving their English skills. 

And, of course, the families have formed a lifelong friendship in the process. 

“We’ve gotten so much more out of this,” van Ierssel commented. “If we had more places, we’d have more people, in a heartbeat.” 

Become a Housing Host 

COSTI is looking for Ukrainian Housing Hosts on an ongoing basis. Learn more about our program on COSTI’s website here, or if you are interested in providing volunteer Housing Assistance, complete the Housing Host Form and submit it to

Tanaz Pardiwala, Manager of COSTI’s Ukrainian Host Program and Jen van Ierssel joined the podcast Connecting the Community in July 2023. Listen to the full episode