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Toronto's packed shelters to refer asylum seekers to federal programs: deputy mayor

Toronto's overstretched shelter system cannot cope with the high numbers of refugee claimants seeking bed spaces and will begin referring them away from at-capacity shelters towards federal programs, said deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie.

McKelvie said at a press conference Wednesday that the federal government has not provided Toronto with the funding it needs to cope with unprecedented demand for shelter space from asylum seekers and refugee claimants.

The number of asylum seekers in Toronto's shelter system grew by 500 per cent in the past 20 months, she said, from a low of 530 per night in September 2021 to more than 2,800 throughout the month of May.

Mckelvie cited a lack of affordable housing, the volatility of Canada's economy, low wages and "a resurgence" of refugee claimants to Canada, many of whom would prefer to live in Toronto, she said.

"We're asking the federal government to provide Toronto with the same financial considerations as other municipalities, such as Peel and Niagara, where it funds and operates refugee and asylum-seeker specific hotels," said McKelvie.

McKelvie told reporters that Toronto asks for federal funding for the city's shelters on an annual basis.

"That is not sustainable, that is not responsible, and it is not a system that allows us to plan for the future growth that (Ottawa) anticipates," she said.

Ottawa has not provided Toronto with additional shelter funding since March, forcing city hall to make "difficult decisions," she said.

Beginning Thursday, if space is not available within the city shelter system, refugee claimants and asylum seekers will be referred to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada programs.

IRCC has leases and contracts with 24 hotels across Canada, and contracts with service providers to provide temporary accommodations to asylum claimants.

"We have a long history of supporting refugees and connecting them with robust supports," Coun. Shelley Carroll said at the press conference. "But without the support of the federal government, we cannot adequately help those individuals and families build safer and more prosperous lives anywhere here in Canada."

The city also announced it will decommission two temporary shelters at the end of August, and called on Ontario's government to create a provincewide homelessness strategy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023. Top Stories

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