Tory: More funds needed to address influx of refugee claimants in shelter system
Mayor John Tory says that the city has “reached the limit” of its ability to provide shelter and other social supports to new refugee claimants arriving in Toronto and is “urgent need” of assistance from the federal and provincial governments.
According to numbers released by the city on Thursday, the proportion of refugee claimants in Toronto’s shelter system has increased from 11.2 per cent in 2016 (459) to 37.6 per cent so far in 2018 (2,351).
Meanwhile, the number of new caseloads involving refugee claimants at the offices of Employment and Social Services has nearly doubled from 365 in 2016 to 646 in March of this year.
Tory said that the total bill from the increased need for shelter and social services supports is expected to reach $64.5 million by the end of 2018, money which he says the city should be reimbursed for by the federal government.
He said that Ottawa and Queen’s Park should also help facilitate the immediate placement of new arrivals to Toronto's shelter system in other towns and cities in the region.
“The City of Toronto is here to help. We are committed to providing shelter and support to all those who need it but we can no longer do it alone. The status quo is not acceptable. That point is very clear,” Tory said on Thursday. “While we as Canada’s biggest city do not have any jurisdiction over refugee policy, we do however end up with the responsibility for new arrivals coming to our country. We are not going to back away from our commitment to helping and welcoming people but we do need help from other governments.”
Shelter system practically at capacity
City staff say that more than 2,000 beds have been added to the shelter system over the last two years, bringing the total number of available spaces to 6,470.
The system, however, has consistently remained at or near capacity.
On Wednesday night, about 96 per cent of all spaces were filled. All 719 spaces reserved for families were occupied, and 746 of the 750 spaces reserved for women were similarly in use.
As overcrowded as the shelter system has been in recent years, Tory said that the situation has gotten “particularly acute” in recent days following a warning by the Quebec government that it would begin turning away asylum-seekers from temporary shelters set up in the Montreal area once those facilities reach 85 per cent capacity. The warning came after provincial officials indicated that they expect the number of asylum-speakers crossing their border to hit 400 per day this summer.
“It simply can’t be left to cities and their limited resources alone to do this,” Tory said of caring for the influx of refugee claimants. “If they (the federal government) set the policy and we embrace it then there needs to be a partnership.”
Staff say that if other levels of government do not provide assistance to the city in short order, they may have to activate a contingency plan for emergency social services, wherein community recreation centres would be used to provide temporary shelter to new arrivals.
Tory said he is hopeful that other levels of government will come to the table, though he said they have been largely absent to date.
“This is not something we are raising today for first time,” he said.