Councillor wants federal help as city deals with refugee claimants in shelters

An Ottawa councillor says the recent influx of refugee claimants from the United States is creating a crisis for the city's two emergency family shelters.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury says 14 families seeking asylum arrived Wednesday

Rideau-Vanier ward Coun. Mathieu Fleury says the city's emergency family shelters can't handle the recent influx of refugee claimants coming from the United States (CBC)

A recent wave of refugee claimants is putting pressure on Ottawa's emergency family shelters, and Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury says the federal government needs to help. 

More asylum claimants are staying in the city's shelters while they await hearings, Fleury said.

"We have 14 families just yesterday that came into our city and I'm worried," Fleury said.

"Our two city family shelters that we own are at capacity so we've been renting hotel rooms for some time and families are staying there for too long. This is new pressure and we need the federal government to be involved."

Fleury's appeal to his federal colleagues echoes comments from Toronto Mayor John Tory last week about the influx of asylum seekers and the burden it's placing on his city's shelter system. 

The province of Quebec and Manitoba have made similar pleas to the federal government. 

Janice Burelle, Ottawa's general manager for community and social services, said in a written statement her department saw a spike in demand for temporary shelter last summer due to refugee claimants from the United States.

That demand levelled off in March, but increased again in April.

The city did not provide numbers as to how large the increase was last month.

"City staff continue to work closely with partners exploring options for families seeking shelter in Ottawa," Burelle said.  

'A crisis going on'

The jump in the number of asylum seekers doesn't surprise immigration lawyer Bhramba Kullur. 

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision earlier this year to lift the temporary protected status given to more than 100,000 mostly Central American citizens living in the United States for humanitarian reasons has created uncertainty and led some to leave the country before they are removed.

"Right now there is a crisis going on … we expect more [refugees] to come in the summer," Kullur said.

Ottawa Liberal MP Andrew Leslie says his government is in 'constant contact' with Mayor Jim Watson on the asylum seekers issue, but a decision on whether federal funding will be available for the city to handle the influx hasn't been made yet (CBC)

Outside the House of Commons, Andrew Leslie the Liberal MP for Orléans, told the CBC the government has heard the concerns of municipalities. 

"The MPs in the National Capital Region are in constant contact with the mayor, Jim Watson of Ottawa and we'll let you know when the decisions are in due course — no decisions have been made yet," he said. 

In his appeal to his federal counterparts, Fleury said the issue for funds is "pressing" because the city needs to "stabilize the families arriving."