OTTAWA — Irregular border crossers being housed temporarily in hotels in Toronto will have their stays extended by four weeks while officials continue to search for a longer-term solution.
The hotel rooms were reserved in August as a temporary solution that was supposed to last until as late as Sept. 30, with a more detailed, long-term approach for temporary housing of irregular migrants to be released in the interim.
Those plans, it seems, are still being worked out.
“The hotel rooms in Toronto were reserved to allow city officials time to assist these asylum seekers to find housing solutions as they normally do for those who use municipal shelters,” said Jordan Crosby, issues manager for Border Security Minister Bill Blair.
“We are now in the process of extending the hotel rooms in the GTA for an additional 4 weeks while we continue to work with the city of Toronto to determine the next steps.”
The federal government announced in August that it would the rent hotel rooms for about 450 irregular migrants who had been staying college dormitories in the Greater Toronto Area. The colleges needed the dorm rooms for their incoming fall students and there was no room in the city’s shelters.
The shelters have continued to be inundated.
Approximately 40 per cent of shelter occupants in the GTA are refugees and the City of Toronto says 15 to 20 new asylum seekers continue to arrive at shelters every day.
“With the city’s shelter system at capacity, accommodating these new arrivals continues to put even more pressure on the system and the city has exhausted all facilities, personnel and financial resources available to meet the current needs,” City of Toronto official Cheryl San Juan said Monday.
“The city continues to work with the provincial and federal governments and seeks the establishment of a co-ordinated, regional response to this issue.”
The government of Ontario says other communities such as Ottawa are also affected.
Ontario has asked the federal government to work with municipalities and provide “full funding” for temporary housing and for the “growing cost of social services,” according to a statement from the province.
Ontario has asked for $200 million to recoup costs it says its has incurred from irregular border crossers. The Quebec government has also asked for $146 million in asylum costs.
The federal government did commit $50 million to the three provinces most directly impacted by the refugee claimant influx for temporary housing — $36 million for Quebec, $11 million for Ontario and $3 million for Manitoba. The feds say they will continue to “assist provinces and municipalities in managing further challenges related to asylum seekers” but Crosby noted Monday that “the provision of housing to asylum seekers is a provincial responsibility.”
Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the problems facing Quebec and Ontario have been caused by federal actions and policies, so it’s the federal government’s responsibility to fix it.
“How is it right that the government is off-loading responsibility for essentially a new immigration process to the provinces with no discussion about this?” Rempel said.
“We have to ask the question, especially in the context that there are a lot of Canadians that are struggling to make ends meet and then the provinces have to answer tough questions about who is being prioritized for subsidized housing or shelter systems.”
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she does not understand how four cabinet ministers are now involved in managing the irregular migrant issue and yet no real plan for housing — including who will pay for it — has yet been worked out.
“Bringing forward a national affordable housing program and then holding back the vast majority of the funding until after the next election is not going to help with this challenge,” Kwan added.
The government had promised to implement a “triage” system, which would identify asylum seekers willing settle in towns and cities outside of Montreal and Toronto. The hope was to have this ready to roll out at the end of Sept. 30, but so far only five families have taken part in a pilot of this program in Chatham-Kent.
Those families are staying in hotel rooms rented by the federal Immigration Department in Chatham-Kent until they can find more long-term housing as they await the outcome of their asylum claims.
The government says it will study the effectiveness of this pilot, but it remains unclear whether it will be expanded.
“While we have seen a decrease in the number of irregular asylum seekers compared to the same time period last year, the lessons learned from this initial pilot project would inform the implementation of a similar triage system, if needed, in the future,” Crosby said.
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Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press