Beds filled up at Salvation Army as surge of asylum seekers cross into Manitoba

After another weekend of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba, the beds at Winnipeg’s Salvation Army are full.

Salvation Army's Major Rob Kerr says if the stream of people continues, there are going to be major challenges

Salvation Army's Major Rob Kerr says if the surge in asylum seekers continues something will have to be done to help. (CBC)

After another weekend of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba, the beds at Winnipeg's Salvation Army are full.

Salvation Army's Major Rob Kerr says they were packed to capacity all weekend long.

"We had filled every bed we had available for refugee claimants," he said.

Between 73 to 84 beds were claimed for those purposes on each night between Friday and Saturday.

Kerr said they have taken in as many people as possible without jeopardizing any of the organization's other programs. They are trying to reallocate space again in the building but Kerr said even then they will only be able to house a maximum of 100 people.

If the stream of people over the border continues, Kerr said Winnipeg will have a real challenge on its hands.

"We are going to be challenged because there are going to be people coming in who have nowhere to go, they have no place to stay and our current resources are quickly filling up," he said.

"If people keep coming in large numbers there has got to be something else that happens, there has got to be something else made available, there has got to be more funding, there is going to be all kinds of things that are needed in order to ensure that everybody who comes to Winnipeg … has a place to sleep at night."

Province, services looking for funding

From Feb. 28 to March 3, RCMP said they intercepted 40 people crossing the border near Emerson, Man., and another 24 people crossed on Friday, Rita Chahal, the executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council told CBC News on Saturday.

That makes the total more than 200 in 2017.

They've been using an exception in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which allows refugee claims from people who've entered the country somewhere other than an official port of entry.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale went to the border community over the weekend and pledged $30,000 to the rural municipality's volunteer fire department to help deal with the costs of responding to asylum seekers. 

In Winnipeg the same day, Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, which runs Welcome Place, a newcomer resettlement agency, made a public appeal for $300,000 to pay for the costs associated with the surge of asylum seekers. Goodale said Ahmed Hussen, minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has been in touch with settlement agencies in Winnipeg and across the country to assess the situation.

On Feb. 23, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced $110,000 in funding for Welcome Place, $70,000 to continue funding a newcomer response co-ordinator and 14 emergency housing units for refugees. Pallister has also sent a letter to Justin Trudeau calling for more resources.

Kerr said the Salvation Army is carefully monitoring its budget but if the significant numbers of asylum seekers continues into the long term, it will need some assistance.

"Something else needs to happen here, there needs to be some assistance to help us do this," he said.

Food, housing a challenge

Finances aren't the only challenge.

Kerr said they have case workers who help people find homes and connect with other services, but their workload is becoming extremely heavy.

There's also the issue of finding affordable housing to transition asylum seekers into, he added.

"Whether they have the money or not, if they can't find a place to live they still haven't got a place to leave here to go to if they are staying in Winnipeg," he said.

Belongings and blankets are carefully placed on a mattress at the Salvation Army. After another weekend of asylum seekers crossing into Manitoba, the beds at Winnipeg's Salvation Army are full. (CBC)
While staying the Salvation Army, Kerr said all of the asylum seekers have shown a lot of gratitude for the help they are receiving.

Language hasn't been too big of an issue; however, food continues to be a challenge, he said.

"We have had some challenges with halal food with some of them. We've been able to accommodate that as best as we can," Kerr said, adding that the people are appreciative.

There have been more families staying with them, 10 different families including eight children on Monday, but in general it is still a lot more men on their own, Kerr said. The asylum seekers often tell him about their families back in their home countries, Kerr said, and how they are looking for a new life in Canada.

"They are very appreciative of being in Canada," he said.

With files from Cameron MacIntosh