Coalition assisting refugees demands action to help asylum seekers sleeping on Toronto streets

A coalition of groups working with asylum seekers in Toronto is calling on all levels of government to act immediately to help newcomers to Canada who have been locked out of the city’s overwhelmed shelter system.

At a news conference held Friday near Toronto’s shelter intake office at Peter and Richmond streets downtown, a host of speakers demanded that politicians stop pointing fingers and start doing something to address a problem that has left asylum seekers from Africa and other locales sleeping outside because there is no shelter space.

One of those speakers was Kizito Musabimana, the founder and executive director of the Rwandan Canadian Healing Centre. He is a Rwandan who came to Canada in 2000 as a refugee.

“The country that I came to, the country that saved me, was not this,” he said.

“The federal government is pointing fingers … the city was pointing fingers or at least saying they need help, and the provincial government of course sometimes is not at the table. We want everybody to get at the table and answer to everybody here,” he said, to chants of “now” from the amassed crowd.

Toronto’s at-capacity shelter system has been turning away refugees and asylum seekers since the beginning of June and referring them to federal programs, saying it needs more financial support from the federal government. However, many asylum seekers can’t get federal help if their claims haven’t been fully granted, leaving dozens of them stuck in limbo with nowhere to sleep.

Toronto’s shelters are full, mayor says

In a statement, Mayor Olivia Chow said city senior staff and deputy ministers from different ministries of the provincial and federal government had a “productive” meeting on Friday to talk about next steps in resolving the situation.

“The city, provincial and federal governments all see and understand the urgent need to address the immediate crisis, and to develop and implement longer term solutions so that newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers have the support and shelter they deserve,” Chow said.

Chow added all parties agreed to bring specific actions to a crisis management table next Tuesday.

The mayor said she is continuing to work with city staff to communicate to the federal and provincial governments the urgency of the situation and “my commitment to providing refugees secure shelter and a pipeline to permanent housing.”

That would include, she says, $157 million for what the city is spending for existing refugee shelter spaces, support with additional housing and personnel, and a significant expansion of a rent supplement program so people can be moved into housing.

In an earlier statement, Chow said Toronto’s shelters are full. She said the city provides shelter to about 3,000 refugees a night, a number that makes up more than a third of the city’s shelter population.

The federal government says it has provided $700 million since 2017 in funding to provincial and municipal governments through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, which included approximately $215 million to the City of Toronto.

The federal government also announced Friday funding of over $2 million to help employment centre JVS Toronto deliver online, pre-arrival services for new immigrants. The government says that includes information about Canadian workplaces and services for refugees to help them prepare for jobs in Canada.


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