Toronto’s shelter system struggling to cope with influx of refugee claimants
Toronto officials say an influx of refugee claimants in the past two years has put a strain on the city’s shelter system. The city is calling on the federal and provincial governments to provide additional support to mitigate the costs.
“We want refugees to be as big a success story for themselves and for Canada as have been prior generations of refugees,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters during a press conference at city hall on Thursday.
“But that goal is simply not achievable if the other governments, especially the federal government, don’t step up and take much greater responsibility to help us in an area of their jurisdiction. The status quo is simply not acceptable.”
City officials say the number of refugee claimants in Toronto’s shelter system has increased from 459 (11.2 per cent of the total system) in 2016 to 2,351 (37.6 per cent of the total system) in April 2018.
Tory said that if the level of refugees arriving in Toronto continues to rise, the city projects it will incur $64.5 million in direct costs related to providing shelter and housing.
“While we’re not going to back away from our commitment to helping people who need help and to welcoming people, we do need help from the other governments to make sure we can carry out those responsibilities effectively,” Tory said.
Officials say measures have been taken in recent months, such as opening temporary shelter beds and operating motel programs for new arrivals, to accommodate the need for lodging but that the system has reached its limit.
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On Thursday, city officials said they have issued a request to the federal and provincial government for assistance, which includes moving new arrivals to regional locations outside the city’s shelter system, reimbursement for all costs associated with responding to the needs of claimants and developing a system notifying cities outside of Quebec of upcoming arrivals.
“This is not something we’re raising for the first time,” Tory said.
“There have been discussions recently and even going back some period of time that have involved the province and the federal government and the city. But I guess what’s been lacking so far is a meaningful coordinated response that helps us with the things we’ve outlined today, including spaces where we can accommodate these people.”
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office said the federal government has been in constant communication with all levels of government on the file and is aware of the strain the migration has put on the city’s shelter system.
“We have communicated directly with Mayor Tory regularly in the context of our National Operations Plan and have been aware that existing Toronto housing was reaching capacity,” Mathieu Genest said.
“We continue to work closely with all involved players in the implementation of contingency plan which is prepared for any future fluctuations.”
Genest also said the federal government, along with its counterparts, are in the midst of exploring a broader solution to creating a better triage system for refugees, following a meeting with a task force last week.
Officials say more than 19,000 people use the city’s shelter system annually, and that this year alone, it continues to operate at a 96 per cent occupancy rate.
An Opposition motion debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday called on the government to act to stop the influx of illegal border crossers entering Canada from the U.S.
Concerns were raised last week by the Quebec government over the mounting pressures caused by the tens of thousands of asylum seekers pouring into the province over the last year.
Some officials are projecting a further 400 people a day could cross into Quebec through forest paths this summer to claim asylum in Canada.
“We have seen in recent weeks a real increase in the number of arrivals in Toronto and anecdotally, the conversation is that these individuals are coming from Montreal,” said Paul Raftis, general manager of the city’s shelter, support and housing administration division.
“So we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of individuals arriving both in the emergency shelter system, but also at Toronto employment and social services offices.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press
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