London’s shelters are too maxed out to help Toronto house refugees

London City Hall as seen June 14, 2017. Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL File

London’s shelters are too full to help Toronto house the more than 3,300 refugees and asylum claimants in its own shelter system.

The larger city sent a letter asking for help from London and other levels of government, saying that it had exhausted all of its facilities, personnel, and financial resources. A report tabled at Monday afternoon’s community and protective services committee called the situation in Toronto “unprecedented” and “urgent.”

But London isn’t in much of a position to help.

Rotholme Women’s and Family Shelter in London has 41 beds, and space for about 20 families. As of Monday morning, the committee heard it was operating at 219-per cent capacity.

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The staff report says London’s broader emergency shelter system is operating at 100 per cent capacity, in part because of drug use, mental illness, and other “street-involved behaviours.”

The report also cites London’s lack of affordable housing, and an overall vacancy rate of 1.8 per cent.

It’s a “tipping point,” according to London city manager Martin Hayward.

The letter from Toronto came from its own city manager, Giuliana Carbone. It was sent to municipalities in late June, asking whether there was space immediately available, either publicly or privately-owned, that could be used or re-purposed as shelter space for refugees and asylum claimants.

London isn’t able to provide space that’s immediately available, though Ward 5 councillor Maureen Cassidy inquired whether vacant provincial and federal property in London might be fitting.

“I can think of Wolseley Barracks, I can think of London Psychiatric Hospital. Large places,” Cassidy said. “I have no idea what the state of those buildings are, but is there any outreach happening with the provincial and federal governments for them to offer their vacant buildings?”

Hayward said those buildings have have been identified to the city of Toronto, and that the onus is on them to work with the province and determine whether they’re suitable places to live.

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“They need to go through that due diligence.”

London has also said it’s committed to working on a sustainable strategy with other municipalities, to address the influx of refugees and asylum claimants.

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