OMRA: Paving a Path to Home and Hope for Refugees in Ottawa

In 2001, faced with the challenge of finding housing for large refugee families, a group of sponsors came together to establish OMRA. This group struggled to secure suitable accommodation for incoming families due to low vacancy rates in Ottawa. To address this, the group pooled resources to provide initial funding for four townhouses as an effort to help provide refugees access to clean, safe, and affordable housing.

“The situation remains crucial,” says Maria Rigby, President of OMRA, who has been involved since its inception. She emphasizes how difficult it can be for individuals and small families fleeing traumatic situations to start in a new country on their own, and how they receive less government support than larger families. 

Over the years, OMRA expanded its reach and impact. Initially focused on supporting large families, the organization adapted to changing needs, eventually including singles and smaller families in its program. By selling some of its townhouses and fundraising, OMRA now offers rent subsidies that allow families to choose their own housing options, significantly increasing the number of families supported. 

Run entirely by volunteers and receiving no government funding, almost 100% of OMRA’s resources go directly into providing subsidies. These range from $200-$900 a month. Beyond this, OMRA provides several startup resources to help new families set themselves up for independent success. This includes various types of mentoring and tutoring programs, helping with school work, finding a job, and financial management. 

Another crucial part of OMRA’s work involves helping refugees build a sense of community with a variety of events, including summer picnics. “We provide a personal face and are very people-centered,” Maria says. 

OMRA’s commitment to community engagement aligns with the energy of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, an event Maria has participated in with her own family for years, both as runners and supporters. “I remember when my (now adult) children were young, we would go down to the canal, watch people run and cheer them on. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, the point is to be there and enjoy the atmosphere.” 

Since then, Maria, the OMRA Board and their families have participated in Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend numerous times. The run serves as a crucial opportunity to raise funds and awareness around homelessness for refugees. Last year, OMRA won a prize in the Desjardins Charity Challenge as the third official charity with the largest number of fundraising runners.

For Maria, running is not just a physical activity, but a way to connect with the community and promote OMRA’s cause. She reflected, “Running means a time to think and clear your mind, to become enthusiastic about things.” This year, OMRA aims to include some of the families they support, further integrating them into the Ottawa community.

Through donations, volunteering, and participating in events like Tamarack  Ottawa Race Weekend, individuals can support OMRA’s mission. Maria encourages people to “move beyond your circle, expand outwards,” emphasizing the importance of community involvement in creating a welcoming and inclusive society.

In a world where the concept of home is often taken for granted, OMRA provides not just shelter but a path to a more secure future for those in need. Sign up today to run with the OMRA team at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend or donate to their cause.