Backgrounder: Refugees & Asylum Claimants Experiencing Homelessness in the City of Toronto
Last updated: November 6, 2019
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. As the primary destination for immigrants to Canada, Toronto also receives a high number of arrivals of refugee/asylum claimants requesting access to emergency shelter and housing supports.
Since 2016, the number of refugee/asylum claimants coming to Toronto has increased significantly. While impacts to City of Toronto services are broad, there has been a disproportionate impact on the shelter system. As of October 2019, approximately 36 per cent of all shelter users in the City’s permanent shelter system were refugee/asylum claimants, with an average of 15-20 new refugee/asylum claimants entering the shelter system each day.
The City is committed to targeted efforts that ensure this population is able to access programs and services and improve their quality of life. Since 2018, the City has successfully housed more than 10,050 refugee/asylum claimants. Since late 2016, the City has added more than 2,500 beds to accommodate increasing pressures across the emergency shelter system. The City also partners with service providers that provide health care, settlement, education and income supports, and initiate the search for housing. Specifically with refugee/asylum claimants, staff make referrals to service providers that can assist with the filing of their refugee claim.
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. While people are not required to provide identification or disclose their immigration status to access services, most clients who are refugee/asylum claimants self-disclose their status at this time.
Average nightly number of refugee/asylum claimants in Toronto’s shelter system has, at times, more than quadrupled since 2016. Service statistics on overall shelter occupancy are posted to the City’s website daily.
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 2,357 in October 2019.
In April 2018, the City of Toronto’s fourth Street Needs Assessment (SNA) provided a snapshot of the scope and profile of the City’s homeless population. The survey found:
- 40 per cent of those staying in City-administered shelters were refugee/asylum claimants
- Among families staying in City-administered shelters, refugee/asylum claimants represent 80 per cent
|Surveyed Groups||Did Not Migrate||Migrated (Total)||Immigrant||Refugee/Asylum Claimant||Temporary Resident|
|24-hour respite sites||68%||28%||21%||4%||3%|
The SNA also found 31 per cent of all respondents reported coming to Canada in the past year.
The largest share of newcomers in the past six months were families staying in City-administered shelters.
|Surveyed Groups||Did Not Migrate||Migrated Less Than 6 Months Ago||Migrated 6-12 Months Ago||Migrated 1-10 Years Ago||Migrated 10 or More Years Ago|
|24-hour respite sites||68%||6%||0%||3%||19%|
Refugees and refugee/asylum claimants have unique needs, depending on factors such as country of origin, language proficiency, health, and other factors. Refugee/asylum claimants, in particular, are generally an under-served, vulnerable population with high needs.
The City strives to take a holistic approach to supporting all newcomers, including refugee/asylum seekers, with programs, policies and services that complement the not-for-profit, faith, private and other sectors. Once clients are receiving shelter services, staff work to link them to health care, settlement support, the education system, income supports, as well as initiate the search for housing. Specifically with refugee claimants, staff also refer them to service providers that can assist with the filing of their refugee claim.
Access to the Emergency Shelter System
Access to the emergency shelter system for refugee/asylum claimants, as well as all other people requesting shelter services, is managed through Central Intake, a phone intake service operated by the City. Individuals experiencing homelessness can reach Central Intake at 416-338-4766 or 1-877-338-3398. Youth and adults can also get a walk-in referral from the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre (SHARC) at 129 Peter St.
New! Temporary Refugee Response Site
In November 2019, the City of Toronto will open a new Temporary Refugee Response Site. The site will offer spaces for up to 200 adults while freeing 200 beds across the City’s shelter system for other individuals. The building owner, Times Group Corporation, approached the City with an offer to lease the 7,400-square metre (80,000-square foot) property to help newcomers to Toronto. The facility, operated by Homes First Society, also provides access to refugee-focused support organizations to all gender, single refugee/asylum claimants. These supports are made available through partnerships with community agencies as well as the City’s Newcomer Office and other City divisions. Learn more.
Temporary Refugee Response Program
The City also provides temporary refugee response program for families through a hotel-based program. Operated by City staff and COSTI Immigrant Services, the program provides temporary accommodation, initial settlement services, and support during the refugee claimant process for refugee claimants in the City of Toronto. Clients are referred from the City of Toronto’s Central Intake.
Regional Response Program
In August 2019, the federal government agreed to support a regional interim housing program for refugee/asylum claimants developed by the City of Toronto. The program will support triage and interim housing in Toronto and in partnering GTHA municipalities for August 2019 to March 2020. Since September 1, 2019, 367 refugee/asylum claimants have been transferred to programs in Peel and Durham regions.
Local Immigration Partnerships
Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs) help facilitate coordination between non-profit agencies, governments and the for-profit sector to better meet newcomer needs and support their settlement process and access to the labour market. Learn more about the Toronto Newcomer Strategy.
Housing Help Centres
The City works with 10 organizations that provide housing help. The Housing Help Centres are non-profit agencies that help people find and keep housing and avoid eviction. Housing help services are available in most shelters and many drop-ins.
While immigration policy is under the federal and provincial jurisdictions, it is municipal governments that respond to fluctuations in new arrivals and provide services.
Toronto City Council has committed to providing municipal services to all Toronto residents regardless of immigration status. Over the past three operating budgets, City Council has authorized increases to help address the immediate needs of refugee/asylum claimants coming into Toronto. Additionally, Council has requested the federal and provincial governments to reimburse the City for those costs associated with the City’s response.
In May 2019, the federal government announced $45 million to help the City address temporary housing shortages in response to the increased number of refugee/asylum claimants. The funds were in addition to the $26 million provided by the federal government since June 2018. In 2018, the provincial government contributed $3 million.
In August 2019, the federal government agreed to contribute $17 million through its Interim Housing Assistance Program for a regional interim housing program for refugee/asylum claimants developed by the City of Toronto.
Toronto Newcomer Office
The Toronto Newcomer Office (TNO) provides strategic leadership on newcomer and immigration-related issues at the City and is responsible for implementation of the Toronto Newcomer Strategy. Among other activities, TNO convenes the Newcomer Leadership Table, bringing together key stakeholders to address newcomer issues in a coordinated and collaborative manner. Learn more about the Toronto Newcomer Strategy.