Anger growing over lack of government support for Toronto asylum seekers

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Anger growing over lacking government support for Toronto refugees
WATCH: Anger growing over lacking government support for Toronto refugees – Aug 25, 2023

It’s been weeks since church groups stepped in to provide shelter for dozens of refugees left on the concrete outside a Toronto homeless intake centre, but anger is growing as their resources are stretched thin.

Revivaltime Tabernacle is one of the Black-led churches providing shelter for the refugees. When it originally took in people, the goal was to do so on a temporary basis. On Friday, leaders of the faith community held a press conference, revealing the number of refugees in their care is now more than 600.

More people continue to arrive and space is running out. Pastor Eddie Jjumba said they were fitting as many people in as they could, with only room for people to sleep in chairs at Dominion Church.

Nadine Miller, a director at Pilgrim Feast Tabernacle, said she’s been paying for blood pressure medication as well as ear and eye medicine. Several women are pregnant and she said she has concerns they haven’t had an opportunity to have doctor’s appointments, as many are experiencing uterine and abdominal discomfort.

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The lack of adequate government response, they said, was the result of anti-Black racism.

“[Governments] were all ready to rally around the Syrians, Ukrainians, those from Afghanistan,” said Pastor Judith James. “They wanted to be recognized as helping. For the first time they’re passing the buck and they don’t want us to see this as systemic racism?”

Pastor Sam Tita also compares the response Canada’s government mounted to help those fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

“We are going through this while Caucasian refugees coming in from Europe, they have apartments already set for them even before they touch down in this country,” Tita said.

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Pastor Jjumba said it was clear that no one in government is listening to him as a priest, so he cut his collar in an act of protest, vowing not to wear it until all the refugees are properly housed.

Speaking at an unrelated press conference on Friday, Toronto’s mayor Olivia Chow said six churches have reached out to the city for help.

Chow said there are currently 10,000 people in the city’s shelter system, around 3,300 of which are refugees.

“We are providing some funding to support them so they can at least in the short term manage it,” she said.

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According to Chow, in two of those churches, city staff are there to act as liasions.

Chow said the city is providing each of the churches $50,000, but said that funding “doesn’t go all the way. We will have a more comprehensive plan as we go forward.”

The mayor said she has previously apologized to the newcomers, but said the city can do better/

Chow again called on her provincial and federal counterparts for additional support.

In an email to Global News Friday, Aissa Diop, a spokesperson for Canada’s minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Mark Miller, said the federal government knows the “urgency of the situation requires an all-hands-on-deck approach,” adding that the federal government “has been there every step of the way.”

“This July, we announced an additional $212 million to help house asylum seekers, of which $97 million will go to the City of Toronto, a funding amount that was decided upon and requested by the City at the end of May,” Diop said. ” This one-time top up to the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP), adds to the almost $700 million in funding already provided, of which $215.4 million went directly to the City of Toronto.”

Diop said the primary objective of IHAP was to provide “temporary assistance to allow provinces to adjust to the influx of claimants and increase their interim housing capacity, reducing the risk of homelessness for claimants.”

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Diop said the IRCC has also been working with impacted provinces and municipalities to provide temporary housing, saying as of August, the ministry had provided 3,600 hotel rooms across six provinces to asylum seekers.

“Our government is working closely with the province of Ontario and the City of Toronto as they look to implement permanent housing solutions,” Diop said, adding that the federal government has spent $1.43 billion to “renew and repair” more than 58,000 affordable housing units.

Diop said the government has also committed to spending $290 million to tackle homelessness in Toronto through Canada’s Homelessness Strategy.

“We have been and will continue to be there for the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto, but in order to address the global migration crisis, we must have full engagement from all levels of government,” Diop said, adding that the ministry “strongly” encourages Chow to “also engage with the Province of Ontario and ensure that, they too, are willing to help meet the needs of the City.”

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