By Allison Jones
Ottawa is putting $212 million more toward interim housing for people claiming asylum in Canada, including about $97 million for Toronto, where a shelter system at capacity has forced people to sleep outside.
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said it is a welcome “first step,” but more help is needed.
Officials have said the number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system grew by 500 per cent in 20 months and the city is now turning them away from maxed-out shelters toward federal programs.
Sean Fraser, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship announced new funding Tuesday under the Interim Housing Assistance Program, which he said will be extended until March 31, 2024.
“Canada will continue to support the world’s most vulnerable people who seek our protection,” Fraser wrote in a statement.
“Today, we have committed additional funds to ensure cities like Toronto have the capacity to keep a roof over the head of asylum seekers fleeing violence, war and persecution.”
The new money is on top of previous funding of nearly $700 million, including more than $215 million for Toronto, Fraser said.
Chow had asked for the federal government to cover the $157 million Toronto is spending for existing refugee claimant shelter spaces, and support with additional housing, shelter space and personnel.
In welcoming Tuesday’s announcement, she said the funding boost still would not meet the needs of asylum seekers arriving in Toronto and surrounding areas.
“It may however provide a short-term stop gap,” she wrote in a statement.
“I am working with the city manager and senior staff to determine what we can do immediately. Senior staff from all orders of government are meeting again this afternoon to put forward tangible solutions including discussions on space and personnel.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said later Tuesday that he and Chow met and agreed “to work together to improve access to affordable housing and enhance refugee support and resettlement efforts in Toronto.”
They look forward to continued co-operation with each other and Ontario, Trudeau’s office said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government earlier Tuesday to give Toronto the $157 million Chow had asked for earlier, saying he agreed with the mayor 100 per cent on that issue.
“If you bring new people in – I’ve been encouraging them, by the way, to bring new people in, because we need to fill 300,000 jobs – you have to step up,” Ford said at an unrelated press conference in the Niagara Region.
He also said he wants to see the federal government speed up the issuance of work permits.
“Shelters are number one, working permits are number two,” he said. “I’m going to be all over the federal government to make sure that they get these people back on their feet. You can’t just drop people and say, ‘OK, we’re all done.’ It doesn’t work that way. We need to work collaboratively, all together.”
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he hopes the government fulfills its promise of additional funding to help people fleeing desperate situations.
“They want to contribute, they want to offer their services, they want to build a good home for themselves and they want to work, and they’re unable to do that if they’re ending up on the streets because there’s no place for them to go,” Singh said.
“This is absolutely the federal government’s responsibility, to ensure that people are received, that people are provided the supports they need to then go on and build that life in Canada.”
Asylum seekers were gathered for days outside a downtown Toronto centre that supports those who are homeless by providing access to food, washrooms and other amenities. A church in Toronto is now housing many of them temporarily, but one outreach worker said some have returned to the centre due to a lack of showers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2023.
Banner image via The Canadian Press