Jessica Bell MPP, University–Rosedale

Government of Ontario

Refugee housing crisis requires solutions from all levels of government

Published on July 12, 2023

MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam and I met with Siu Mee Cheng, executive director of Street Haven. CTV news was there to do a feature on Street Haven and the current housing crisis for refugees and asylum seekers.

We heard from Theresia and Florence, two recent newcomers to Canada. Theresia and Florence shared how they each had to flee their homes at great personal cost. They both arrived in Toronto, only to face serious challenges securing safe and affordable housing. Theresia and Florence also shared their dreams and aspirations for their new lives in Canada. Theresia is a skilled water engineer who hopes to secure a job in their field. Florence wants to go back to school to become a nurse. But their biggest goal right now is to secure housing so they can start their new lives in Toronto.

Refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Canada have been forced to flee their homes for many reasons. They are fleeing war, violence, and Climate disasters. They are fleeing persecution from their government–recently there has also been a large uptick in 2SLGBTQ+ refugees who face violence because of their gender and sexual orientation. In recent months, refugee and asylum seekers arriving in Toronto now find that they face additional barriers, because of our housing crisis, they are being told that there is nowhere for them to stay.

Every shelter and refugee house across the city are over capacity. Everyday shelter workers have to turn away refugees and asylum seekers. Since mid-June, Street Haven alone has been forced to turn away over 230 women. For many refugees and asylum seekers, this means their only option is to sleep on the street. 

We need solutions from all levels of government to solve this humanitarian crisis. The federal government must immediately provide the City of Toronto with promised federal funding for shelter and housing programs for refugees and asylum seekers. 

Provincially, we need to commit to building more deeply affordable housing and invest in programs designed to help low income and priority groups access safe and secure housing, like the Canada Ontario Housing Benefit (COHB). COHB provides a direct, monthly benefit to people living in shelters or waiting for affordable housing to help pay for private market rent

This year the Ford government made the decision to allocate significantly less money for the COHB to all municipal service managers. This funding shortfall has left City of Toronto officials unable to enroll 500 new recipients into the program, further exacerbating the housing crisis, putting more pressure on the shelters, and deepening the cycle of homelessness.

Making matters worse, in March, the Ford government announced they would be ending the Physician and Hospital Services for Uninsured Persons Program, a program that made sure uninsured people had access to urgent medical necessary services in hospitals and basic physician services. This cruel and inhumane decision left many unhoused and undocumented people without access to health care. People who have no choice but to sleep on the streets are exposed to the elements, leading to issues that often require medical care. 

Everyone deserves access to health care and to live in a home that they can afford and that meets their needs. We need a comprehensive viable plan to address our homelessness and housing crisis. That’s why I am calling on the Ford government to:  

  • Immediately invest in homelessness programs like COHB.
  • Reinstate the Physician and Hospital Services for Uninsured Persons program.
  • Work with the Federal government to ensure they fulfill their promise to provide $97 million to support refugee shelters in Toronto.
  • Finance and build at least 250,000 affordable and non-market rental homes.