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Refugees remain on Toronto streets over funding stalemate, no new federal money announced


Months after $215 million in federal funding for refugee settlement in Toronto ran out, no new money was announced Friday to address what’s been described as a crisis playing out on its downtown streets.

“The Interim Housing Assistance Program has sunset, but that does not mean that some of the benefits of it don't still continue to linger for those benefited from it,’ Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said at an unrelated news conference in Toronto Friday on behalf of Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

“We are very much focused on being a partner with the City of Toronto, with all municipalities, with provinces and territories, so that refugees who come to Canada, and indeed all immigrants who come to Canada, are able to hit the ground running,” Mendicino added, but stopped short of announcing any new funding to fix the problem.

Earlier this week, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told CTV News that an additional $175 million has been set aside for immigrant and refugee settlement services in the Toronto area as part of the 2023-2024 federal budget.

But the sight outside of Toronto’s shelter intake centre shows that money can’t arrive soon enough.

For the last several weeks, dozens of people continue to sleep outside the downtown facility on Peter Street after Toronto started referring refugees to federal programs in June.

Newly-minted Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said the city manager, Paul Johnson, is set to meet with his provincial and federal counterparts on Friday to discuss the issue and figure out a way to “deal with this crisis.”

"I am looking for concrete solutions for the end of the immediate crisis, as well as a longer term action plan to provide refugees dignified shelter and housing when they arrive," she said in a statement ahead of the meeting. 

"That includes the $157 million the City is spending for existing refugee shelter spaces, and support with additional housing, shelter space and personnel. Further, I am seeking partnership that includes the City contributing on a significant expansion of the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit, a rent supplement program, so that we can move people into housing."

Refugees seeking shelter are seen outside Toronto's Assessment and Referral Centre as the city and the federal government fight over funding.

According to the city, Toronto hasn’t received any new funding since last year, when the federal government provided money to the city to cover the costs of asylum seekers who accessed Toronto’s shelter system in 2022.

The decision to turn asylum seekers away from its shelter system is also having ripple effects outside of Toronto as people rejected from the city go elsewhere.

East of Toronto, Durham Regional Chair John Henry issued a statement on Thursday saying that the municipality is struggling to keep up with the demand to house refugees.

“The capacity issues of Toronto are moving to the 905 and it’s going to move out farther as space opens up,” Henry said in an interview with CTV News Toronto. “But there isn’t a lot of available space to start with.”

Henry said his region has been inundated since the Toronto closure, with 200 more people seeking shelter in his facilities in the past two weeks.

“Quite frankly it breaks my heart that we’re not able to take everybody. But we’re doing the best that we can here,” he said.

In Hamilton, Ontario Premier Doug Ford answered questions about the crisis on Thursday by referring to his government’s plan to build more homes at an unrelated news conference.

“These are just the newcomers. We have to build 1.5 million homes,” he said.

The City of Toronto has expressed concern that part of the Ontario government’s plan to build homes would gut city budgets by removing their ability to levy development charges, leaving even less money for shelters.

With files from Noushin Ziafati and CP24’s Joshua Freeman Top Stories

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