“This is a shame”: Advocates demand urgent response to Toronto shelter crisis impacting refugee claimants and migrants

African groups, groups working with refugees —including FCJ Refugee Centre—, people experiencing homelessness, and other civil society groups gathered this morning on 129 Peter Street, the City of Toronto Referral and Assessment Centre, to call on all levels of government to urgently provide emergency housing and support, in order to address the current shelter system crisis that is impacting unhoused refugee claimants and migrants in Toronto.

The organizations called on all orders of government to establish temporary reception centres for refugee claimants and migrants, so they can receive short term shelter and appropriate wraparound supports as their refugee claims are processed, including providing immediate emergency street outreach and mobile resources, and health care support.

They also demanded funding for shelter support services that include appropriate services for refugee claimants and migrants, and use an anti-Black racism and anti-racism framework.

In that regard, they stressed that a significant proportion of refugee claimants in Toronto who are unhoused and without any shelter or community services and support are or African origin. African groups and civil society organizations are deeply concerned, they said, that there appears to be a lack of action to address the housing crisis faced by African, racialized refugee claimants. There are approximately 30 or more African people at any given time sleeping on cardboard outside of the 129 Peter Street location in Toronto.

“As a refugee that came to Canada 33 years ago, I am standing here in solidarity with my sisters and brothers that are sleeping on the streets, and to say shame on the Government of Canada,” said Loly Rico, Executive Director of FCJ Refugee Centre.

“This is not the first time that we see waves of refugees coming to Canada after a conflict rise in the world. There was always a bed for them. But this is the first time that we are seeing refugees sleeping on the streets. This is a shame. We should be ready for this situation,” she added.

“I am standing here to demand to the different levels of government to take responsibility. We ask the City of Toronto to open more emergency beds now, and to establish a reception centre for refugee claimants and precarious migrants,” said Rico.

“It is very sad to see people lining up looking and hoping to have a bed today. Enough is enough. Stop blaming refugees,” said Loly Rico. “This is a government responsibility, and especially for the Federal Government. We ask Prime Minister to take action and not just words. He always says that refugees ar welcome. Then do it and welcome them, in the same way that we have being welcoming refugees in the past and giving them the chance to have a new beginning with dignity,” she added.

The representatives who participated in the event pointed out that “in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, all orders of government acted quickly to support displaced people, including providing shelter, housing, and services.” “Civil society organizations call on governments to show the same compassion to refugees and migrants from other parts of the world,” they added.

The organizations said that unhoused people on the street face sexual exploitation and high levels of violence, as well as inadequate food and healthcare: “As new arrivals in Canada, refugee claimants’ unfamiliarity with Toronto has left them more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”

Together with the Executive Director of FCJ Refugee Centre, Loly Rico, also speaking at the event were Diane Walter, Executive Director at Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services; Kizito Musabimana, from the Rwandan Canadian Healing Centre; Debbie Hill-Corrigan, Executive Director at Sojourn House; Manny Wong, Executive Director of Christie Refugee Welcome Centre; Siu Mee Cheng, Executive Director of Street Haven; Mr. Asuman, a migrant from Uganda; Debbie Douglas, Executive Director at OCASI; Christopher Nkambwe, from the African groups; Pastor Eddie Jjumba, Ugandan Canadian community leader; and Dr. Meb Rashid, Medical Director at The Crossroads Clinic, Women’s College Hospital, University of Toronto.