London responds to Toronto's call for help with refugees: Sorry, we're full too

Despite a call for help from Toronto, city staff say London is in no position to accept refugees from Canada's largest city, with local shelters already operating beyond capacity.

City looks to public spaces like Wolseley Barracks as possible places to house those seeking shelter

London has told Toronto that its shelter system is also under pressure, and doesn't have capacity to help Canada's largest city deal with a pressing influx of refugee and asylum claimants. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Despite a call for help from Toronto, city staff say London is in no position to accept refugees from Canada's largest city, with local shelters already operating beyond capacity.

In a letter tabled Monday at a meeting of London's Community and Protective Services Committee, City Manager Martin Hayward said London's shelter system is already dealing with a "critical shortage" of shelter beds and hotel rooms. 

"The City of London continues to see the arrival of many refugees and asylum claimants which is straining not only our shelter services, but also our social services," the letter reads. 

Hayward said London is struggling to meet the needs of local clients, including many with addiction and mental health issues, "that are also contributing to a challenging situation in our community." 

Hayward's letter is in response to a June 29 letter from interim Toronto city manager Giuliana Carbone, who says Toronto faces a "critical and urgent shortage of shelter space" with more than 3,300 refugee and asylum claimants in the shelter system.

Included in the letter, which was sent to other Ontario municipalities, is a request for public or private spaces that could be re-purposed into shelters before Aug. 9.

Toronto is currently housing some 800 migrants, including 200 children in dormitories at two Toronto colleges — a temporary solution that will end in August when students return to school.

Many of the migrants overloading Toronto's shelter system crossed into Canada from the United States.

Speaking after Monday's committee meeting, Hayward said London shelters are operating above 100 per cent capacity.

"There's a large number of people who need to be housed," said Hayward. "We're receiving new refuges and asylum seekers every week. In fact, we got a new family on the weekend as well. That's pushing us to an over-capacity situation."

The crowded shelters, limited supply of affordable housing and London's increasingly tight rental market are all adding to the pressure, according to a report presented to committee.

One shelter feeling the strain is London's Rotholme Women's & Family Shelter, one of the few Ontario shelters that caters to families. Rotholme provides 41 emergency beds for about 20 families. As of Monday, it was operating at more than 200 per cent over capacity.

Wolseley Barracks, London Psychiatric Hospital might be options

Lynne Livingstone, the city's managing director of Neighbourhood, Children and Fire Services, said London officials are speaking with Toronto city officials about the possibility of using other public buildings as temporary shelters, including the London Psychiatric Hospital and Wolseley Barracks. 

Hayward said, for this to happen, Toronto would first need permission from the buildings' owners (respectively, the provincial and federal governments). 

"They're not our buildings," said Hayward. "If you've got a vacant building and it needs to be upgraded, there are certain efforts that need to be put into that. The likelihood of the city of London taking it over would be slim to none. We don't own the buildings and we don't know what the state of the buildings are."

Hayward's letter says London will work with Toronto to press senior governments to come up with a plan to deal with the influx of migrants.


Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.