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Toronto Homelessness Spikes with Refugee Influx

As Toronto continues to see an influx of refugees enter the city, emergency shelters are continuing to arise. Most recently, three new temporary shelters are underworks for the winter season.

One temporary shelter is opening in the parking lot of Lamport Stadium in Liberty Village on Dec. 15. The other two will open in January at 351 Lake Shore Blvd East and 701 Fleet Street. The Better Living Centre and Moss Park Armoury also opened temporary facilities to create room for the 750 spaces that have been filled in the winter respite program.

The city of Toronto statistics have recently shown almost 40 per cent of the people in shelters are refugee claimants, a change from the 11 per cent in 2016. This increase is expected to cost $64.5-million by the end of this year. Although, A Globe and Mail article stated, federal Immigration Minister, Ahmed Hussen, has challenged this number as false. However, Mayor John Tory stands by the number, a spokesman for Mayor Tory said Toronto is facing an “unprecedented demand for shelter from asylum seekers and refugee claimants.”

Aracelly Denise Granja from the Canadian Human Rights International Organization (CHRIO) works with all refugees to help ensure their fundamental rights are met. Granja said, “Toronto is facing an overload, just as a lot of other countries are because of the high volume of immigrants coming from high conflict countries. What social services are having to do because shelters are so full, is partner with hotels to be able to provide temporary housing so that they are not without shelter.” Granja went on to say finding housing in Toronto is especially difficult because of the high market rate, to solve the issues of homelessness among refugees and others would be affordable housing.

Another point Granja made was about the community’s involvement saying, “If you aren’t constantly seeing it, we are aware there is homelessness in Toronto, it’s something we’ve always seen, but the new component of high volume of refugee homelessness is something we are not as aware of as we should be.” As well as noticing refugees as contributing members to Canada, “Opening more shelters, helping out your community to facilitate more resources so they can get back on their feet. They often are skilled works it’s just a matter of getting them set up and stable.”

In April, city officials said the number of refugee claimants in Toronto’s shelters system increased from 459 in 2016 to 2,351 in 2018. The city has been forced to create shelter space in motels, community recreational centres, schools, such as Humber College, and now the building of temporary shelters.

Carolyn Stevens, a leading volunteer for the Out of the Cold program by Mosaic Interfaith since it started 14 years ago said, “We desperately need housing. A lot of these people in here could be housed.” She continued to say, “They can’t find work for different reasons, so they don’t have a job, they don’t have an address so they can’t apply for any grants, because you have to have an address. There is no support for them, and the bottom line is, there is no housing.” The Out of the Cold program is based in different places of worship throughout the York region, each night guests are given a hot meal, at some locations a shower, and an overnight stay. On Wednesday evening at Temple Har Zion, Stevens explained that after dinner the tables were removed and guests were given a gym mat with one sheet. “They can say they are going to build more shelters, they can say they are going to put more money into it, but it is not solving the problem.” Stevens continued to say, “Until you put a face to them, they’re just homeless. The people making the housing decisions need to have faces in front of them so they can see who they’re saying no to.”

Although the Out of the Cold program does not see many refugees, especially since those with families will often be directed somewhere else due to the program helping those 18 and over, Stevens said, “I might see refugees that have been in the country for eight or 10 years and still don’t have a job and now they’re really down and out.”

In the past two years, the influx of refugee claimants have created a strain on Toronto’s shelter system. In April, Toronto called on the federal and provincial governments to help deal with the surge, after Quebec announced they would no longer accept refugee claimants into Montreal’s shelter system. City officials said, “To ensure that Toronto remains a safe, welcoming and accessible place for all, the City of Toronto requires urgent action be taken by the provincial and federal governments to help facilitate a coordinated and regional response to this increasing and acute challenge.”



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Haeley DiRisio

Haeley DiRisio

Journalist. LinkedIn: Haeley DiRisio Insta: haeldiriz, email: hael.dirisio@gmail.com, Twitter: @haeleydirisio