Homeless coalition chair worried about another provincial cut

The chair of London's Homeless Coalition, Abe Oudshoorn, is concerned about a possible influx of families in need of shelter due to the elimination of the Transition Child Benefit program.
The Ontario government is cutting the Transition Child Benefit program, which could land more refugee and immigrant families in emergency shelters, said London's Homeless Coalition. (CBC)

The chair of London's Homeless Coalition, Abe Oudshoorn, is concerned about a possible influx of families in need of shelter due to the elimination of the Transition Child Benefit (TCB) program. 

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said in a written statement that winding down the benefit is part of an overhaul of the social assistance system. 

The statement called the current system complicated and unequal. Instead the government is investing nearly $1.2 billion dollars in the Ontario Child Benefit this year, "...which provides equal access to support for low-income Ontarians who need assistance."

But, Oudshoorn worries that this cut will particularly impact refugees and immigrants as they wait for their claims to be processed.  

Abe is with the London Homeless Coalition (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

"For families who come here claiming refugee status, they often arrive with absolutely nothing, no resources, no money and are in a fairly desperate situation," he said. "In Ontario we provide support to these families until they have their claim processed." 

Having a claim accepted can take months, if not years. The TCB, which is worth about $230 per child per month, helps refugee families and immigrants who qualify for social assistance but not for the Ontario Child Benefit. 

"It's a very humane approach and it also ensures that if their claim is accepted they can settle in comfortably in Ontario."

Oudshoorn said the financial impact of cutting it could mean the difference between a family being able to enter the rental market or having to rely on emergency shelters.  

"So taking away the resources from those families undercuts the whole process," he said. "What we'll find is that it will make things worse and lead to worse outcomes for these families. We're still going to end up helping them, it's just not going to be as effective."

Barriers to settlement

Oudshoorn has been working with a team that is studying the impact of refugees staying in shelters. The work is not complete, but the goals include understanding how refugee families end up in the shelter system and if that can be prevented. 

One of the big barriers to diverting refugee families from shelter is the sheer amount of paperwork a newcomer has to go through, said Oudshoorn. That includes things like identification, registering children for school and a host of other obligations to meet in order to stay here. 

As a result, shelters, and the people who work in them, do help refugee families navigate that paperwork. But, Oudshoorn said, ideally another solution could be found to keep families out of shelter altogether or minimize the length of stay.

"But if these families have no other opportunity for income, are not able to work in the country and they get stuck in the shelter," he said. "Essentially it creates a dead end and we'll then have this ripple effect of more and more people lacking somewhere to go when they're in crisis." 

Oudshoorn said groups who work to reduce homelessness and those in the settlement sector will be talking about how best to respond to these changes. Eliminating the TCB will happen November 1.

"We want people who come to Canada to settle well. We want families to be successful," he said. "Starting your new life in an emergency shelter for months or years isn't setting people up for the best success."