Toronto’s Strained Shelter System Unable to Accommodate Surging Asylum Seekers


In an unsettling sequence of events reminiscent of a tragic summer past, Toronto’s Central Intake facility at 129 Peter St. bears witness yet again to throngs of asylum seekers and refugees crowding outside in the hope of snagging a place in the city’s overwhelmed shelter system.

Just a fortnight ago, Reverend Alexa Gilmour stopped by the facility, a beacon of hope and aid for desperate souls. During her visit, she noticed a group of 25 individuals languishing outside the site. Several days later, the number had doubled, and more recently, she confessed to a disturbing sight – 80 people huddled on the sidewalk in a bid to escape the elements.

Regrettably, Reverend Gilmour explains, Toronto’s homeless shelters teem with occupants, leaving no room for newcomers. Her grave observation echoed the somber reality faced by the city’s shelter system last summer.

This bleak situation was exacerbated when, on a seemingly ordinary Wednesday, the landlord of the building that accommodates Dominion Church International in North York deemed it necessary to reclaim a banquet hall that was serving as an impromptu living space for 99 refugee and asylum respondents.

The North York church, along with four others across the city and a mosque in Weston, have thrown open their doors to refugees in recent times. Working tirelessly to find alternate arrangements for those displaced from Dominion Church, Gilmour, however, confronts her journey without success.

Her struggle is a testament to the scarcity of financial and physical resources. “We don’t have the funds we need to welcome refugees as we should”, she confided.

Last spring, Toronto was compelled to divert refugees and asylum petitioners away from packed shelters, directing them instead to federal programs. This resulted in an alarming increase of people forced to sleep outdoors, specifically on the freezing sidewalk of 129 Peter St.

Apologies were recently issued by Mayor Olivia Chow for the inhospitable treatment meted out to those forced to sleep on the streets for weeks due to this policy. Although expressing her concern for the crowd amassing outside the intake facility, Chow lamented the sad reality. Driven to their limits, shelters sometimes turn away half of those seeking help.

Currently, the city accommodates nearly 5,000 refugees, a situation unsatisfactory for Chow who apologized for the absence of proper homes. She noticed a skyrocketing demand in recent times that has stretched the existing shelter system to breaking point.

The Shelter, Support and Housing Administration Division offered some insight. The services at 129 Peter St. are not exclusively for newcomers, but the present demand for emergency shelters is sky high. According to spokesperson Bradlee Bomberry, refugee claimants and asylum seekers bear the brunt of the existing predicament, and the city is trying to extend support whenever possible.

Bomberry indicates that approximately 1,500 individuals have been accommodated outside the system in various organizations and programs. Despite these efforts, an average of 300 people seeking shelter are unmatched every night – about half of them being asylum seekers.

The soaring number of asylum seekers arriving in Toronto has led to significant strain on the city’s resources. Over the last couple of years, the number of refugees claimed in Toronto’s shelter system has risen by over 600%, from 537 in September 2021 to 3,682 at the start of October.


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