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'Shelters are full': Refugees gather outside downtown Toronto intake centre


It was a troubling scene this summer and it’s happening again now as dozens of refugee claimants and asylum seekers wait outside Toronto’s Central Intake facility at 129 Peter St., hoping that a space might be found for them in the shelter system.

Two weeks ago, Rev. Alexa Gilmour, a United Church minister who has been doing outreach and advocacy for refugees, stopped by the downtown site and saw 25 people waiting outside. A few days later, there were 50, she told Last night, she said that 80 people were camped out on the sidewalk.

“We’re exactly where we were before. Our shelters are full,” she said on Thursday afternoon.

To make matters worse, on Wednesday afternoon, 99 refugees and asylum claimants were left without a roof over their head as the landlord of the building that houses Dominion Church International in North York said they needed to reclaim a banquet hall that they were staying in for other events.

The North York church is one of five in the GTA, along with a mosque in the city’s Weston area, that have opened their doors to refugees in recent months.

Gilmour has been scrambling to help those dispalced from Dominion Church to find a place to stay, at least for the time being. But hasn’t secured one as of yet.

“We don’t have the funds we need to welcome refugees as we should,” she said.

This past spring, the City of Toronto began turning away refugees and asylum seekers from full shelters and referring them to federal programs instead of admitting them to the regular waiting list for those seeking shelter.

This, in turn, led to a surge in people sleeping outside 129 Peter St.

Mayor Olivia Chow has since apologized for that policy, which she said amounted to unacceptable treatment of refugees and asylum seekers who were left sleeping on the streets of downtown Toronto for weeks.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday following an unrelated news conference, Chow said she's sorry for the situation outside the central intake facility, but said that the reality is that half of those who seek help from the City of Toronto are turned away every day because its shelters are full.

“We are now housing close to 5,000 refugees and we have no homes for them. I apologize for that,” she said.

Refugee claimants and asylum claimants gather outside Toronto's Central Intake centre at 129 Peter St. on Oct. 5. (Ken Enlow/CP24)

Meanwhile, in a statement provided to CP24, the City of Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration Division noted that the services provided at its Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre at 129 Peter St. are not only for newcomers, meaning that those waiting outside may not only be refugee claimants and asylum seekers.

“The City continues to try to accommodate all people in need of emergency shelter space, but we are currently seeing record-high demand and a shelter system that is full,” Spokesperson Bradlee Bomberry said.

Bomberry said refugee claimants/asylum seekers are “being uniquely affected” by the situation in Toronto’s shelter system. He did add that the city is supporting more than 1,500 people outside the system in churches, community organizations, bridging hotels, and in programs supported by the Canadian Red Cross.

“The current average number of people unmatched for shelter is just under 300 per night – and now about half of those people are asylum seekers. We are seeing more people call and need space because the number of new asylum seekers arriving in Toronto continues to go up,” Bomberry said.

The number of refugees recorded in Toronto’s shelter system has increased by more than 600 per cent over the last two years, from 537 in September 2021 to 3,682 as of Oct. 1. Top Stories

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