Toronto-area shelters full of homeless refugee claimants - New Canadian Media
Romero House executive director Francesca said refugee claimants can receive social assistance, but it won't be enough to pay for housing. Photo: Nur Dogan/New Canadian Media

Toronto-area shelters full of homeless refugee claimants

“We are seeing the highest number of refugee claimants that we have ever seen in Canada. We are going to continue seeing the higher numbers, and we need to prepare for that.”

A total of 112,780 refugee claimants entered Canada in the first 10 months of this year, and most of them chose to stay in the Toronto area where shelters are overflowing and affordable housing is almost impossible to find.

“There are currently 995 asylum claimants who are temporarily residing in Peel’s emergency shelters, accounting for 67.5 per cent of its shelter population,” said Renee Wilson, communications manager for Peel Region Municipality, which includes the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

“This represents a massive jump from previous years whereby historically, asylum claimants account for five per cent of Peel’s shelter population.”

 In response to the growing numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, the federal government announced Nov. 24 that it would provide $7 million to create a reception centre near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport that will help streamline services and housing for refugees.

 Kamal Khera, federal minister of Diversity, Inclusion & Persons with Disabilities,  announced the money will also create a temporary shelter for asylum claimants in Peel region. 

Francesca Allodi-Ross, executive director at Romero House in Toronto, said refugee claimants face many challenges during their initial year in Canada.

“Firstly, when refugee claimants arrive, they initially don’t have a work permit —they can get it on the day of their arrival or it can take a year in some cases,” she said. 

“Secondly, they don’t have a credit history; they don’t have former landlords who can provide references for them. Thirdly, they have often spent all of their savings getting to safety . This is why we are seeing so many homeless refugee claimants.”

Allodi-Ross said refugee claimants can access social assistance, but it won’t be enough to pay for housing.

Nigerian-born Ibrahim Babatunde is seeking asylum in Canada. He said a group of asylum-seekers were recently relocated from the Dundas Street shelter to the Quality Inn Airport West in Mississauga.

He said another group – mostly women and children – were taken by bus to a hotel in Niagara, Ont. 

Said Wilson: “Once shelters reach capacity, we move to overflow locations. While we cannot elaborate on any specifics including potential locations of the sites and anticipated timelines, we are working as quickly as possible and prioritizing asylum claimants’ and Peel residents’ safety throughout the process.”

She said the refugee claimants registered in the Peel Regional Municipality come from Kenya (60.8 per cent); Nigeria (17.6 per cent); Bahamas (12.7 per cent); Pakistan (4.9 per cent); and Ukraine (3.9 per cent).

“As far as I know, there is no one still sleeping outside in tents at the Dundas Road place any longer,” Babatunde said. “The intervention by various bodies started after the death of the man last month and I believe the government is trying to prevent any other death of such nature.”

A Nigerian man was found dead in a tent outside the Dundas Street shelter in Mississauga early in the morning on Nov. 14. Police say he may have died from the inappropriate use of a heater, but an autopsy will confirm his cause of death.

Addressing the Challenges of Homeless Refugee Claimants

Allodi-Ross said housing is the biggest problem in Toronto, not just for refugee claimants.

“Even when a refugee claimant gets a spot in a shelter, they are not able to move into permanent housing because everything is so unaffordable.” 

“We are seeing the highest number of refugee claimants that we have ever seen in Canada. We are going to continue seeing the higher numbers, and we need to prepare for that,” she said.

Allodi-Ross said that all three levels of the government need to step up and invest into more affordable housing, more rent control and more settlement support for refugee claimants. 

Samuel Watts, CEO of Welcome Hall Mission in Montreal, said that the immigration system designed in the 1960s can no longer address the realities of 2023. 

“We are facing the largest movement of people in the world since the end of the Second World War,” Watts said. “Canada is not sheltered from that. Many different types of people come into Canada in numbers that are beyond the capacity of the current system.

 “The solution is to redesign the system because Canada needs immigrants. We need more skilled people who are willing to come to work. Immigration is a very positive thing, but it is not going to be positive if we have people ending up on the streets and who don’t receive the kind of support that they require in order to get them to the right start in Canada.”

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Makhabbat Aitekenova, a journalist from Kazakhstan, is a graduate of Nazarbayev University, the country's top institution known for its English-language instruction. With over five years of experience in broadcast journalism and digital media, Makhabbat is skilled in writing for television, radio and newspapers. She recently arrived in Canada in September 2023, with plans to further her career in journalism, focusing on local and immigrant stories. In her spare time, Makhabbat enjoys reading books about Canada, with her latest literary delight being 'The Colony of Unrequited Dreams' by Wayne Johnston. You are welcome to follow her on LinkedIn and X.

Emmanuel Nwaneri is a journalist with about 27 years of writing, travel and journalism experience in Nigeria, South Africa and Australia. He moved to Johannesburg in South Africa where he spent 10 years as a writer, journalism tutor and commentator. His time in South Africa afforded him the chance to observe the fast-changing dynamics of a country popularly-known as “a rainbow nation." He relocated to Winnipeg with his family in 2018 where he has since found interest in the Customer Service industry. He has published Once Upon A Woman and is working on a second work of fiction.

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