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Toronto church Revivaltime Tabernacle says it will no longer shelter asylum claimants

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Revivaltime Tabernacle, a church that took in several hundred recent asylum claimants over the past few months in response to Toronto's shelter space crisis, says it will no longer be open as a shelter.

Pastor Judith James says that recent asylum seekers to Canada are no longer sheltered at the church as of Thursday and that previously postponed church services will resume.

She says that all 230 asylum seekers sheltering at the church have been moved to a temporary hotel or municipal shelter per an agreement with the City of Toronto.

Revivaltime Tabernacle, a Christian and principally African Canadian church in Toronto's Downsview area, had sheltered nearly 700 people in shoulder-to-shoulder cots lain throughout large basement presentation and Sunday school rooms since July.

Toronto has seen an increased arrival of asylum claimants, which has challenged its shelter system.

In the 20 months leading up to May, the number of asylum claimants requesting shelter from the city grew 500 per cent, from a low of 530 people per day in September 2021 to more than 2,800 per day.

Then-deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie said the city's shelters were at splitting capacity and on May 31 announced that without an additional $97 million from Ottawa, Toronto's municipal shelters would no longer take in asylum seekers.

James says her church was the answer to an "emergency crisis" following the city's shelter closure. Revivaltime Tabernacle, North York's Dominion Church International, Etobicoke's Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles and community centres throughout the GTA subsequently took it upon themselves to offer free shelter in their buildings, Airbnbs and residential units rented out of pocket. Some asylum seekers were sleeping outside near the city's shelter referral centre.

Toronto received $97 million in additional federal funding on July 18, which McKelvie had said was necessary to continue dedicated shelter services for asylum seekers.

Dominion Church International has yet to announce an anticipated end date for their shelter service, and James says that Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles will continue to run as a "welcome respite centre" where recent arrivals to Canada can receive advice and support regarding immigration.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2023

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