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John Tory seeks federal help as more refugees wind up in city shelters
In letter, mayor seeks funding for shelter system, newcomer office
March 2, 2017
John Rieti

Toronto Mayor John Tory is asking the federal government for funding to help refugees struggling with the "hard landing" of losing government support, and he wants some of that money to go to city shelters that are now dealing with an influx of newcomers.

At least 810 refugees relied on city shelters this January — an 80 per cent increase over the same month last year, according to the city's shelter administration. Tory, in a letter sent to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen this week, said that's putting pressure on an already-strained system.

"Opening the doors is not enough," Tory's letter said.

"We must make sure our cities have the resources they need to support new arrivals and set them up for success over the long-term."

The mayor's letter calls for the federal government to provide immediate and ongoing funding for Toronto's shelter system and its newcomer office, which connects those arriving in the city with important services like healthcare. It also calls on the government to expand the housing resources and supports given to refugees — like the thousands of Syrians who arrived last year — "to ensure that existing services are not further strained."

Government-sponsored refugees receive programming and support for 12 months, but for many, that is now ending.

Toronto a 'magnet' for newcomers

Tory's letter praises the federal government's move to welcome more immigrants, but says the well-managed initial push must continue.

"We cannot accept people here in their time of need only to see them fall through the cracks or lack the resources to reach their true potential," it states.

Tory previously called Toronto a "magnet" for asylum seekers due to its opportunities and diverse population. Earlier this year, councillors reaffirmed Toronto's sanctuary city status, meaning people don't need to disclose their immigration status to gain access to services.

Groups that support newcomers, meanwhile, said they expect many of the asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Canada border in the wake of President Donald Trump's election to make their way to Toronto.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada issued a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday afternoon, saying the government announced plans to spend $504 million on affordable housing in its 2016 budget.

Otherwise, "municipalities are responsible for managing the costs of shelters that asylum seekers may use which in turn are supported by the provinces and territories."

Doctor says shelters, clinics constantly busy

Dr. Meb Rashid, who works at the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre and the Crossroads Clinic at Women's College Hospital, welcomed Tory's funding request. The areas that would be bolstered, he said, are "critical" to helping newcomers, many who arrive in the city with serious medical needs.

"Certainly having more resources to support our colleagues in the shelter system is incredibly important," he told CBC Toronto.

Rashid said refugees often arrive at the Christie refugee centre in the middle of the night, touching off a scramble to find them a bed.

"We're filled … we're constantly busy," he said, adding he has heard more people have been arriving in the city recently.

Rashid said most refugees only need help when they first arrive, and that most do quite well once they adapt to Toronto.

Tory's office declined to provide a specific dollar figure for its request, but notes the federal government is expected to present its budget soon. Tory is also seeking a meeting with Hussen to discuss future steps.