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Ottawa gives $212M funding boost for housing asylum seekers


Ottawa is putting $212 million more toward interim housing for people claiming asylum in Canada, including about $97 million for Toronto, where a shelter system at capacity has forced people to sleep outside.

Officials have said that the number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system grew by 500 per cent in 20 months and the city is now turning them away from maxed-out shelters toward federal programs.

Sean Fraser, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship announced new funding Tuesday under the Interim Housing Assistance Program, which he said will be extended until March 31, 2024.

“Canada will continue to support the world’s most vulnerable people who seek our protection,” Fraser wrote in a statement.

“Today, we have committed additional funds to ensure cities like Toronto have the capacity to keep a roof over the head of asylum seekers fleeing violence, war and persecution.”

The new money is on top of previous funding of nearly $700 million, including more than $215 million for Toronto, Fraser said.

Mayor Olivia Chow had asked for the federal government to cover the $157 million Toronto is spending for existing refugee claimant shelter spaces, and support with additional housing, shelter space and personnel.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government earlier Tuesday to give Toronto that amount, saying he agreed with Chow 100 per cent on that issue.

“If you bring new people in – I’ve been encouraging them, by the way, to bring new people in, because we need to fill 300,000 jobs – you have to step up,” Ford said at an unrelated press conference in the Niagara Region.

He also said he wants to see the federal government speed up the issuance of work permits.

“Shelters are number one, working permits are number two,” he said. “I’m going to be all over the federal government to make sure that they get these people back on their feet. You can’t just drop people and say, ‘OK, we’re all done.’ It doesn’t work that way. We need to work collaboratively, all together.”

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he hopes the government fulfills its promise of additional funding to help people fleeing desperate situations.

“They want to contribute, they want to offer their services, they want to build a good home for themselves and they want to work, and they’re unable to do that if they’re ending up on the streets because there’s no place for them to go,” Singh said.

“This is absolutely the federal government’s responsibility, to ensure that people are received, that people are provided the supports they need to then go on and build that life in Canada.”

Asylum seekers were gathered for days outside a downtown Toronto centre that supports those who are homeless by providing access to food, washrooms and other amenities. A church in Toronto is now reportedly housing them temporarily.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2023.

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