November 28, 2018


  • Toronto is one of the most multicultural urban areas in the world. Each year, tens of thousands of people from around the globe choose Toronto as their new home. Their diverse cultures and communities have helped create Toronto’s identity as a vibrant global city.
  • Toronto is a welcoming and inclusive city for all that supports the successful settlement and integration of newcomer communities and has a long history of supporting and welcoming refugees, including those from Vietnam in the 1970s, Somalia in the 1980s, and more recently, Syria in 2016.
  • The city has always received a large number of refugee/asylum claimants. Since 2016, the number of refugee/asylum claimants coming to Toronto has increased significantly.
  • The current increase in refugee/asylum claimant arrivals to Toronto started in late 2015 and intensified in 2017, and has surged in 2018.
  • As of November 20, 2018, almost 40 per cent of all shelter users in the City’s system were refugee/asylum claimants (both pre-claim and those who have already made their claim). This represents a significant increase over a short period of time: from 11 per cent in early 2016, and 25 per cent in late 2017.
  • As of November 20, 2018, there were 6,611 adults, youth and children in Toronto’s permanent shelter system and the temporary refugee response programs. (It does not include 24-hour respite sites or 24-hour women’s drop-in programs.) Service statistics are posted to the City’s website daily.
  • From November 2016 to date, the City has served a total of 6,808 refugee/asylum clients in the shelter system, with 4,389 refugee/asylum claimants being discharged from shelters into permanent housing in that time period. As of November 20, the number of refugees in the base shelter system is 729.
  • This prolonged and ongoing demand has created significant pressures on the City’s shelter system, which has been operating at capacity for a number of years, creating an unsustainable situation.

Current Situation

  • During the winter months, the demand on the City’s shelter system increases as more people seek shelter from the inclement weather. With 18 to 20 new refugee/asylum claimants entering the shelter system each day, the City’s system will be under additional strain.
  • The City wants to ensure that people are sheltered during the coldest months and has contingency plans to activate temporary refugee services at a number of locations in case more space is needed.
  • The City of Toronto has exhausted all facilities, personnel and financial resources available to meet the current needs of refugee claimants/asylum seekers in the municipal shelter system.
  • The City of Toronto will continue to proactively work with other governments, including other municipalities, and community partners to find appropriate shelter and accommodation for refugees/asylum claimants in and entering the City’s shelter system.

Temporary Measures

  • On May 23, the City of Toronto, through the Office of Emergency Management, activated its Contingency Plan for Emergency Social Services. As part of this response, the City, with financial support from the Province of Ontario, secured an additional 800 spaces for refugee/asylum claimants at college residences.
  • In early August, the City of Toronto successfully relocated all refugee/asylum claimants temporarily housed in the Centennial College and Humber College dormitories in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and permanent housing.
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) assisted with the moves in locating, booking and paying for hotel rooms in the GTA. The City of Toronto was responsible for logistics and transportation.
  • As of November 20, less than 30 refugee/asylum claimants remain in one GTA hotel procured by IRCC.
  • Prior to the August 9 deadline, many of the families moved out of Humber College dorm during the week of July 23. Many chose to relocate to the Region of Peel, and some to other areas in the GTA that offered motel accommodation. In the Region of Peel, support services are being offered through the Salvation Army and COSTI Immigrant Services.
  • At its peak, there were about 675 people at the two college dormitory programs.

Call for Action from Other Levels of Government

  • The City of Toronto continues to request that the federal governments establish an effective regional strategy for Ontario that would improve intergovernmental collaboration and place for new arrivals throughout the province.
  • In addition to the reimbursement for all costs, the City has requested ongoing and stable funding of $43 million a year, starting in 2019, to offset the costs the City will incur in responding to the needs of refugee/asylum claimants.
  • The direction to request that a federal and provincial co-ordinated regional response is urgently established was adopted by City Council in June 2018. Such a response is needed to ensure that Toronto remains a safe, welcoming and accessible place for all. City Council’s requests include:
    • Reimbursement for all costs – including those incurred in 2017 and projected for 2018 – in responding to the needs of refugee/asylum claimants in Toronto, including an estimate for direct operational costs in excess of $64.5 million, with an additional $6.3 million anticipated as a result of using the college dorms.
      • The City received $11 million from the Government of Canada to help offset the costs associated with the increase in arrivals of refugee/asylum claimants to Toronto. While the funding is welcome, it is not enough to cover the costs associated with temporarily housing refugee/asylum claimants.
    • Provision of shelter space for refugee claimants – although an exhaustive search for additional shelter capacity was pursued with federal colleagues, still no appropriate sites for additional shelter space for refugee claimants have been identified.
    • Regional response and strategy – the City has repeatedly requested that the provincial and federal governments facilitate a co-ordinated and regional response to manage the increase of refugee claimant arrivals to Toronto and relieve associated pressures.

Data Collection

  • All clients arriving at City shelters are asked a series of questions as part of their intake. This includes asking clients the reason for needing shelter services. Most clients who are refugee/asylum claimants self-disclose their status at this time. (Service is not refused to those that do not want to or cannot answer questions on intake.)
  • The City of Toronto continues to collaboratively work with federal and provincial officials to support a data-informed approach.
  • Toronto City Council is committed to providing City-administered and funded programs and services to all residents of Toronto, regardless of immigration status. As such, it is likely that representation of refugee/asylum claimants in the City’s shelter system is, if anything, under-reported.
  • Of interest, COSTI shared the results of a broad survey conducted March 2017 to May 2018 within the City refugee motel program that it manages for the City. The results showed that of the 1,670 people surveyed, 96 per cent were current refugee/asylum claimants with the balance saying they had completed the refugee claim process.

Increased Demand by Refugee/asylum Claimants

Bar graph showing the increased demand of refugee/asylum claimants from November 2016 to October 2018



















Average nightly number of refugee/asylum claimants in Toronto’s shelter system has increased from an average of 643 per night in November 2016 to 2,534 in October 2018.

Media contact: Natasha Hinds Fitzsimmins, Strategic Communications, 416-392-5349,