The Region of Peel, which consists of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, is doing its part to help resettle refugees who can no longer stay in temporary accommodations in Toronto.
At a recent regional council meeting, Janice Sheehy, commissioner of Human Services for Peel, told council that the region received a request from the federal government to assist once more with relocating refugee claimants from Toronto.
The region has been called on to resettle refugees in the past and has been in talks with the federal government regarding financial compensation for costs associating with housing additional residents.
The region is expected to welcome 250 more families over time.
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“We did at that time review the capacity of our hotel rooms and our capabilities and what we could reasonably be successful at handling and we agreed that we could handle 250 families,” Sheehy told council.
At the meeting, council voted in favour of providing additional temporary shelter, services and supports for refugee claimant families between July 2019 and March 2020.
The region has become accustomed to making room for refugees in need of temporary accommodations. Over the last few years, Canada has seen an increase in the number of refugees settling in the country. While Canada has openly welcomed refugees from war-torn nations such as Syria, it’s also dealt with an unexpected increase in asylum seekers from the U.S. who are worried about deportation under the Donald Trump administration.
The region is currently in talks with other levels of government to receive up to $3.8 million of funding for reimbursement of costs related to the refugee claimant families. Of the $3.8 million, shelter costs (families will be housed in hotels and motels) are expected to total $1.7 million and support service costs are expected to total $1.6 million.
A recent council report acknowledged that extended assistance could be needed beyond March 2020.
The report said the federal government has agreed to provide a one-time grant to fund the costs and has also agreed to reimburse costs related to the $412,172 incurred to support refugee claimants who were relocated from Toronto in 2018, as well the costs associated with the general increase in refugee claimants in Peel shelters since 2016.
Sheehy said the government has not yet confirmed how much it will offer the region to compensate for costs associated with settling the newest group of refugees.
“There are active discussions with the federal government and we have not come to an agreement yet, but we’re cautiously optimistic we’ll get compensation for costs involved in settling refugees.”
At the time, the region was also anticipating extra costs associated with settling evacuees from northern Ontario following a series of wildfires. Due to improvements in the conditions up north, the evacuees have been cleared to stay or return home and Peel is no longer expecting displaced residents.
Sheehy confirmed that the region has already negotiated 60 rooms that will allow Peel to take 250 families in a phased approach.
The influx in refugees has drawn more (and some would argue much-needed) attention to Peel’s overwhelmed shelter system.
The report says the number of refugees and refugee claimants using the shelter system across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has increased in recent years. In Peel, refugee and refugee claimants accounted for 13 per cent of total shelter users in 2018; an increase from previous years where refugees accounted for an average of 6 per cent of shelter users.
In Toronto, refugee claimants accounted for 40 per cent of shelter system users in May 2018, up from 11 per cent in 2016. When the city became overwhelmed, Toronto Mayor John Tory asked the federal and provincial governments to relieve the growing pressure that refugee claimants were placing on Toronto’s shelter system.
Municipalities across Ontario were also asked to assist.
Last year, 28 families (91 individuals) were transferred from college dormitories in Toronto to hotels and motels in Peel. By December 2018, all families had left the shelter system and were successfully housed in Peel Region.
The report says services will be provided to groups of 60-70 refugee claimants at a time.
Much like in previous cases, the region expects all (or almost all) refugee families will transition into permanent housing before the end of March.
While the region says it understands that it might have to continue to provide service and supports to a small number of refugees after the federal funding ends, it says it is not able to fund the continuation of the same level of service after March 2020 without a budgetary increase.