The City of Toronto has issued an urgent appeal to the federal and provincial governments for help dealing with the growing number of refugee claimants in its shelter system.
Mayor John Tory said Thursday that the number of refugee claimants in the city’s shelters has grown from an average of 459 per night in 2016, to an average of 2,351 per night this month. He said the latest figure represents 37.6 per cent of those in the system.
Tory said if those levels continue, the city will incur $64.5 million in costs related to providing shelter and housing for refugee claimants by the end of this year.
“As is the case with the general shelter population, it would seem that Toronto ends up taking on responsibility for the entire region without the funding support that recognizes that,” Tory said.
The city has taken measures to expand the capacity of its shelter system over the past 18 months, Tory said. But Toronto has reached the limits of its ability to independently address the resettlement of the refugee claimants, he added.
The city has asked the federal and provincial governments to help co-ordinate the immediate placement of new arrivals to locations outside of its shelter system. It has also asked for dedicated staff to co-ordinate services for refugee claimants.
“We are committed to providing shelter and support to all those who need it,” Tory said. “Our staff is working hard every day to keep people safe and with a roof over their heads … But we can no longer do it alone.”
The city said its shelter system serves approximately 19,000 people per year. This month, it has served an average of 6,241 people per night – with 2,351 of those being refugee claimants and 3,890 non-refugee claimants.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the province will work with the city to address the pressure on its shelter system. It will continue to look for surplus provincial buildings that can be used as shelter space, she said.
“I really believe that as a country, and certainly as a province, we have always stepped up to shelter people who are looking for refuge,” she said.
“I don’t think this is a new situation for Ontario or Canada. … We have a big geography, we have a multicultural society, we understand what it means to be looking for refuge.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesman Beatrice Fenelon said the federal government is aware that Toronto’s housing is reaching capacity.
“We continue to work closely with all involved players in the implementation of contingency plan that is prepared for any future fluctuations,” she said in a statement, adding that the government will continue to work with the city and province on the issue.