Mayor warns Toronto may need emergency centre for refugees, demands more support

Mayor John Tory says Toronto will likely have to open an emergency reception centre within the next week for refugees arriving in the city.

City shelters welcoming 10 new refugees per night

Mayor John Tory, flanked by Coun. Ana Bailao, left, and Coun. Joe Cressy, right, is calling on the provincial and federal governments to reimburse the city for the $64 million it's spent to house a growing number of refugees. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Mayor John Tory says Toronto will likely have to open an emergency reception centre within the next week for refugees arriving in the city.

Tory is also calling Friday for federal and provincial help to deal with the pressure the increasing number of refugees are putting on the city's shelter system, marking the second time he's made the demand in recent weeks.

The city says there are 2,683 refugee claimants in the system as of Thursday night, shelter staff report. That accounts for 40 per cent of Toronto's shelter spaces. 

The city expects the more refugees to arrive in Toronto in the coming months, something that could create more strain on the shelter system. (City of Toronto)

Officials say the city now sees 10 new refugee claimants per night. At the current rate, refugees could make up more than half of the shelter population by this fall.

Tory says the city will continue to welcome those people, but warns the city needs more support.

"The people of Toronto are generous, they are understanding and they value our role as Canadians in accommodating people in their time of need," Tory said in a news release.

"But the federal and provincial governments need to honour their values and their commitments to these populations as well."

The city estimates it's spent some $64 million to provide temporary housing in places like motels.

Tory's statement says he wants the other governments to reimburse the city for that expense. The mayor is hoping other support could come in the form of staff support, to help settle the refugees, or the provision of new facilities.

MP says there has been a refugee 'surge'

MP Adam Vaughan says Ottawa will be providing more support soon, but says the city can also take steps to relieve pressure on its shelter system. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, a former city councillor, said he's aware there's been a "surge" of refugees and said the federal government will be providing additional support soon.

It's not simply a question of Toronto being a bigger, stronger magnet.- Adam Vaughan, Liberal MP

Vaughan said the province is working on freeing up assets to help house people, at which point the federal government will be funding that effort.

When asked if Ottawa would provide the millions of dollars Tory's asking for, Vaughan said it's "too early" to say how much will flow to the city.

"There is a system in place," he said.

However, Vaughan also had some criticism for the city, noting some of the shelter capacity issues stem from Toronto's inability to provide other forms of affordable housing — like supportive housing. He said cities like London and Hamilton have dealt with a similar surge of refugees, but have been able to handle it because they've worked harder on finding other places for shelter users to live.

"It's not simply a question of Toronto being a bigger, stronger magnet," he said.

Use of shelters continue to exceed targets

City staff say they believe the rising number of shelter-using refugee claimants is likely tied to the influx of refugees in Quebec, including many who may be travelling to Toronto.

As of late April, more than 5,500 migrants have crossed illegally into Quebec so far this year — a big jump from the 2,000 or so who entered the province by this time in 2017.

Toronto's shelter system continues to operate well beyond the 90 per cent capacity target set by councillors.

City statistics show family shelters were 100 per cent full, women's shelters were 99 per cent full and men's shelters (which have the most spaces) were 95 per cent full last night.

With files from Lauren Pelley