Hamilton seeks $9M to house refugees trickling down from Toronto and other communities

Mayor Andrea Horwath and the city of Hamilton is seeking some $9 million in federal funding to compensate for a recent rise in refugees and asylum seekers within its own shelter system. City of Hamilton

Hamilton’s mayor says the city will need some $9 million this year from the federal government to manage recent spikes in refugee and asylum seekers coming in to use the shelter system.

Andrea Horwath says the city saw some 200 arrive last week alone from other municipalities despite Hamilton not being a typical host community for refugees.

“There’s no room left in Toronto for folks and so they’re coming to other communities,” Horwath said.

“It’s important that we do our part, that we step up and provide support. But we can’t go it alone … we need the help of the federal government.”

Story continues below advertisement

In a letter to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, Sean Fraser, Horwath also asked for a federally funded reception centre for refugee claimants at Toronto Pearson International Airport to provide centralized services and housing referrals, as well as “proactive and sustained” housing money for all Canadian cities, matching the projected impacts of national refugee and immigration policies.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“We need to have a coordinated effort that is more seamless and enables municipalities to step up because they know that they’re going to be getting the support from the federal government,” said Horwath.

“Let’s face it … all signs are that we are eventually going to see climate refugees as well.”

So far in 2023, Hamilton’s emergency shelter system has housed 509 individuals with refugee and asylum seeker status since January.

The city estimates about 20 per cent of Hamilton’s emergency shelter beds are occupied by refugees and asylum seekers.

Adding to the pressure is limited space in the city’s four women’s shelters, where it’s estimated refugees make up about 60 per cent of users.

COO of Good Shepherd in Hamilton Katherine Kalinowski says the city’s emergency shelter system currently operates “at or over capacity every night of the year.”

“We are talking about well over 400 shelter beds in the city of Hamilton, and that is not responding to the demand for space,” Kalinowski said.

Story continues below advertisement

Kalinowski goes on to say they’re being forced to turn families away up to 80 times a month.

“So you can imagine the disruption for children … disruption of their schooling and all their normal activities as their family weathers a crisis of this nature.”

Kalinowski says inadequate social assistance benefits, precarious work and an unaffordable housing market are factors compounding the current homelessness issue across the city.

Last week the federal government announced additional housing support for asylum claimants in Canada.

Fraser, who made the announcement in Moncton, N.B., said the support will come through a one-time injection of approximately $212 million in funding into the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP), which will be extended until March 31, 2024.

It includes approximately $97 million in new funding for the City of Toronto.

The money is in addition to $700 million previously delivered under the program, including over $215 million for the City of Toronto.

Last week, Toronto’s shelters reported high numbers in its shelter system, revealing that more than 35 per cent of the 9,000 people taking up spaces are refugees, according to the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration (SSHA).

Hamilton’s ask includes some $2.37 million to recoup costs already incurred by the city’s shelters in 2023 and an estimated $4 million city staff think they will need to finish out the year.

Story continues below advertisement

Also on the list is $1.2 million for the 20 per cent of refugees and asylum seekers accessing hotel overflow spaces and $1.3 million for women and children refugees who will be housed in 2023 at violence against women shelters.

Sponsored content