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‘A huge shame’: Asylum seekers sleeping on the streets of Toronto as city, feds argue over who should foot the bill

By Noushin Ziafati, Writer-Producer

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — Advocates say it’s “a huge shame” that asylum seekers are being stranded on the streets of Toronto as the city and federal government argue over who should foot the bill to shelter them, and are calling on all levels of government to do more to address the issue.

In recent days, a few dozen people have been seen sleeping in an encampment on the sidewalk outside a referral centre for housing assistance and emergency shelter in downtown Toronto.

Diana Chan McNally, a harm reduction case manager at Toronto’s All Saints Church and homelessness advocate, called the issue “egregious.”

“This is a human rights disaster. Folks are coming from places because they are actively fleeing trauma. And what happens when they get here? We’re inflicting trauma on them again by rendering them unhappy again, on a sidewalk,” McNally told

“This is absolutely a huge shame.”

Saman Tabasinejad, acting executive director of Progress Toronto, echoed those remarks.

“If Canada really wants to claim the title of being a human rights defender, as being a welcoming place for newly arrived refugees, we need to really put our money where our mouth is,” Tabasinejad told


As of June 1, the City of Toronto has been turning away asylum seekers who show up to its at-capacity shelters and referring them to federal programs. Toronto is calling for additional federal funding, citing challenges meeting growing demand for shelter space.

In an emailed statement to, the city said it “urgently requires” $157 million from the federal government to cover the costs of supporting asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system, adding refugees and immigration “fall under federal purview.”

The municipal government said it has enough funding to support 500 individuals, but has been using reserve funds to support more than 3,000 asylum seekers who are using the shelter system on a daily basis.

On the other hand, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told the federal government previously provided roughly $215 million to the city to address “extraordinary interim housing pressures” resulting from the increased numbers of asylum claimants arriving in Toronto.

IRCC said an additional $175 million is earmarked for immigrant and refugee settlement services in the Toronto area in the 2023-2024 federal budget.

But the City of Toronto said it hasn’t received any new funding since last year, when the federal government provided money to the city to cover the costs of asylum seekers who accessed Toronto’s shelter system in 2022.


Advocates are denouncing the political hot potato, saying all levels of government need to step up to address this issue.

McNally said refugees and asylum seekers are being used as “bargaining chips” for additional funding — and in the interim, they have nowhere to go but the streets of Toronto.

“They’re effectively being stranded on the sidewalk for a lot of folks, without support or care, either from the City of Toronto, no access to the shelter system, access to outreach workers, or from the federal government,” she said.

McNally said the responsibility of providing shelter for asylum seekers and refugees should ultimately fall on the federal government since it’s part of IRCC’s mandate to support those individuals, but condemned the city’s approach to the issue.

“They’re playing political football with people’s lives and I think that’s fundamentally wrong, especially if you’re withholding the most basic resources. But the federal government does need to take responsibility, because on a broader level, this isn’t just happening in Toronto,” she said, noting refugees and asylum seekers are being stranded in other major cities as well.

Tabasinejad agreed. She said a multi-pronged response involving all levels of government is needed.

“But I do think that especially the federal and the provincial government, because they’re so removed from what’s happening day-to-day on the local level, they need that extra push to be able to provide funding and assistance to the city in order to respond to the magnitude of the problem,” she added.

Progress Toronto launched a petition this week, specifically calling on Ottawa to fund shelter space and emergency housing support for refugees and asylum seekers. As of Friday, it had received more than 1,700 signatures.

On Wednesday, Toronto mayor-elect Olivia Chow put the blame on the federal government.

Chow said Ottawa is “not paying a cent right now for refugees’ housing,” but wants to “remain hopeful” that the federal and provincial governments will come to the table to solve the issue.

In an emailed statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development said the province provided more than $96 million in funding last year to more than 150 organizations across Ontario that deliver a range of services to help refugees and other newcomers learn English or French, settle, access training and find jobs.

However, the ministry said resettlement and support of refugees and asylum seekers is “a federal responsibility,” adding that it continues to advocate to the federal government “for Ontario’s fair share of funding under the National Housing Strategy.”

IRCC said it understands this situation is “incredibly difficult and empathizes with those involved” and is committed to collaborating with its provincial and municipal partners to help “alleviate the pressures” they are facing.

The federal department said it’s currently trying to provide temporary accommodations to asylum seekers. As of July 3, it said 3,536 hotel rooms dedicated for these individuals in six provinces.

Meanwhile, refugees who arrive in Canada through resettlement programs are eligible for 12 months of income support from the federal government, along with temporary accommodation and assistance in finding permanent accommodation, IRCC noted.


In the meantime, advocates say they’re concerned about the wellbeing of the unhoused newcomers.

Moving to a new country can be an “unsettling experience,” but for a refugee or asylum seeker who has fled war or persecution in their home country, it can be extra difficult to feel safe and settled, Tabasinejad said.

Having no access to basic necessities like shelter, food and water — while exposed to all sorts of elements, including extreme heat, rain and poor air quality in Toronto due to wildfire smoke — only makes matters worse for those individuals, she said.

McNally seconded that, saying she’s concerned about the health and safety of these newcomers, some of whom are turning up at emergency rooms to seek help.

“There’s a huge toll on people’s health and welfare when they’re exposed to heat like this, and especially if they’re not able to access nutrition and water. So, dehydration, heatstroke, these are major concerns that I have for these folks,” she said.

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