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'I feel like I'm not welcome': Refugees describe 'crisis' on Toronto's streets


Dozens of frontline organizations working to help refugees held a news conference Friday outside of a shelter intake centre in downtown Toronto to call on the government to urgently address a situation which many are calling a crisis.

Around 30 or so refugees have been regularly sleeping on the sidewalk outside of the intake centre at Richmond and Peter streets for weeks since the city started referring refugees to federal programs instead of admitting them to the municipal shelter system as part of the regular population in June.

“I feel like I’m not welcome here,” one refugee who’s been on the streets since he arrived in Canada told CP24.

A political refugee from Uganda, he said nobody would choose to leave their country if they didn’t have to.

“Unfortunately when I reached Canada I wasn’t given a warm welcome. I’ve been sleeping on the streets for two weeks in the rain,” he said.

Sojourn House Executive Director Debbie Hill-Corrigan called the situation “shameful” and said refugees are being told to call Service Canada staff who “probably don't even know why they're calling.”

“Where is our government's moral compass? This is a sanctuary city, at least I thought it was a welcoming city,” Hill-Corrigan said. “I have worked in this sector for over 30-plus years. Never have I seen refugees ever used as pawns. My taxes pay for a Department of Emergency Management. Is this not an emergency?”

Many of those in attendance chanted “shame” and “now, now, now” and some claimed the policy is racist as the majority of those sleeping on the street are African immigrants.

A refugee from Uganda who has been sleeping on the streets of Toronto since arriving in Canada speaks at a news conference about the city’s refugee crisis Friday, July 14, 2023.


According to the city, there were 2,900 refugee claimants in Toronto’s shelter system in May. That’s an increase of 440 per cent compared to September 2021, when there were just 537.  

While the city funds 500 beds for refugees at a cost of $34 million, it says it needs more than $100 million in federal funding to cover the remaining demand.

Refugees are an area of federal responsibility.

The city said in May that while the federal government is following through on its responsibility to house refugees in other jurisdictions, the same is not happening in Toronto.

It pointed out that more than 70 per cent of the 2,400 hotel rooms leased for refugees by the federal government are in Quebec.

“Without funding from the Government of Canada, the City will have to refer eligible asylum seekers to programs and services available to them through the federal government,” the city said in May.

Since then refugees have camped outside the intake centre on the hope that an extra spot may open up, though few do. They’ve slept outside in the rain and have had difficulty accessing facilities to clean themselves, relying on frontline services and good Samaritans for food and clothing.  

While the downtown riding where the centre is located was won by the Liberals 2021, it is represented by MP Kevin Vuong, who was tossed from the party before Election Day for not disclosing a prior arrest.

Vuong has written an open letter calling on the government to address the situation.

Despite Toronto being home to a number of powerful Liberal MPs, they have had little to say about the issue.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was in Toronto Friday to announce $2 million for Jewish Vocational Services Toronto, an organization that provides pre-arrival settlement services for newcomers.

However those rallying outside of the Peter Street intake centre said it’s far too little and while JVS does important work, money specifically required to address refugees sleeping on the streets needs to flow to the city.  


Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said on her first full day on the job Thursday that she is committed to addressing the crisis.

She said the city manager would be meeting with federal and provincial officials this afternoon to discuss the issue.

In a further statement Friday, Chow said they will be discussing both immediate and long-term solutions.

"Toronto’s shelters are full. Over a third of their residents are refugees. Our City is currently serving 3,000 refugees each night, including those fleeing the war in Ukraine, in both dedicated refugee shelter spaces and in our base shelter system,” Chow said in her statement. “The Federal Government must recognize this is a crisis and partner with the City to address it.”

She pointed out that “Toronto is not alone” and said other cities across the GTA are also facing similar challenges in providing shelter for refugees.

Durham Region said earlier this week that it is also struggling to provide shelter for refugees and Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier said in a statement Friday that nearly 200 refugees and asylum seekers have arrived there since the end of June, putting “immense pressure” on the town’s services.

“More displaced individuals are arriving daily and with no remaining capacity in the system, people are being forced to sleep on the street. In a matter of days, Ajax has already experienced an approximate 40% increase to our existing unsheltered population,” Collier said.

Speaking at the rally, United Church of Canada minister and former MPP Cheri DiNovo said refugees are being re-traumatized by being made homeless and said “we should be ashamed” of the situation as one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

“We have and we should be welcoming asylum seekers and refugees,” DiNovo said. “But (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau knows there’s a homelessness problem in this province and in this city in particular, and should be stepping up with the funds to be able to supply all the needs that refugees and asylum seekers have, so they're not camped out on the street here.” Top Stories

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