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Advocates call for housing support after refugees left on freezing Toronto sidewalk

Click to play video: 'Toronto refugee housing crisis continues in the cold'
Toronto refugee housing crisis continues in the cold
WATCH: Toronto is once again urging the federal government to fulfill its obligations regarding refugees and asylum seekers who continue to arrive in the city only to find shelters full. Efforts were made to find temporary space on Monday night as cold temperatures set in. Matthew Bingley reports – Oct 31, 2023

A new wave of concern over Toronto’s housing crisis is cresting after advocates said more than 100 refugees were stranded outside on a city sidewalk in -1 C weather for part of the night Monday.

In a tweet posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, around 5:30 p.m. Monday, user Alexa requested help, asking for blankets and sleeping bags. She made the plea after refugees were discovered sleeping outside 129 Peter St. in Toronto.

Images posted on the social media platform show people standing outside with dozens of bags, luggage and makeshift tents.

After repeated calls to open additional warming centres to house these refugees Monday night, they were eventually moved inside.

Russell Baker, the City of Toronto’s manager of media relations and issues management, confirmed to Global News that people outside on Peter Street were eventually moved indoors.

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He also said the city took “swift action” to find various shelter spaces for them across the city that are not typically used as sleeping areas, such as meeting rooms.

People seen outside 129 Peter Street in Toronto, October 31, 2023. Enzo Arimini / Global News

It is not the first time the city and its government have been called out over a lack of options for refugees.

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In May 2023, the city announced its decision to deny refugees certain shelter beds and instead direct them to federal programs due to a lack of funding to expand Toronto’s warming centres.

This quickly drew criticism from advocates, who said it would only increase the number of refugees sleeping on the street.

At the time, deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie said the federal government had not been providing Toronto with the funding it needed to cope with unprecedented demand for shelter space from asylum seekers and refugee claimants.

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She also said in early 2023 that the number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system had grown by 500 per cent in the past two years.

In July, Ottawa committed $200 million to help support the influx of refugees to Canadian cities and Toronto received $97 million of that funding.

However, the demand for more options continues to grow.

A walk-on motion from Coun. Alejandra Bravo was put forward to open federal spaces for shelter, including the armouries, which was discussed by Mayor Chow at Toronto City Hall on Tuesday.

Chow, who said she supports the motions, said in a release the city is currently sheltering nearly 4,000 refugees and knows there are hundreds still in need of shelter as we head into colder weather.

Following the meeting, Chow said the federal government needs to step up to address the problem using a settlement plan and adequate funding.

Mayor Chow said it is “completely unacceptable” that refugees arrive in Canada and are given few options for living spaces, leaving them unhoused in harsh weather conditions.

She also said she has seen the opening of armouries as warming shelters in the past and views it as a viable option.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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