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Toronto councillors approve new spending to help address shelter crunch, including Vaughan hotel | CBC News



Toronto councillors approve new spending to help address shelter crunch, including Vaughan hotel | CBC News

A key city committee has endorsed nearly $86 million in new spending to support Toronto’s crowded shelter system, including cash to house some refugees at a hotel in Vaughan. 

Councillors on the general government committee have approved a package of new, and renewed, non-competitive contracts city staff said are “critical” to support the shelter system. They also outlined the challenges of finding even temporary space in local hotels for refugee claimants, who now account for over half of the people in Toronto shelters.

The general manager of the city’s shelter and support services, Gord Tanner, said the humanitarian crisis that has seen thousands of refugees arrive in Toronto continues. And the city is struggling to handle them in its current shelter system, he said.

“That is not a situation that has been resolved,” Tanner told reporters earlier this week. “We welcome the support of the federal government to address some of these issues.”

Earlier this year, the federal government provided $162 million in new funding to Toronto to help cover the cost of housing thousands of asylum seekers and to help low-income people pay rent. That came after a high-profile game of brinksmanship between Ottawa and the city’s budget chief.

Shelley Carroll threatened to name a special tax levy after the Trudeau government in order to pay for the refugee shelter costs after the city’s pleas for help went unanswered for months.

Last month’s federal budget committed $1.1 billion over three years to help provide interim housing for asylum claimants, conditional on provincial and municipal support.

“The federal government is working with all orders of government to find long-term solutions to prevent asylum seekers from experiencing homelessness,” the budget said.

Up to half of new funding could qualify for federal program

At city hall earlier this week, Tanner told the general government committee that he expects half of the approved funds would be eligible for reimbursement from the federal government. But he also acknowledged the challenge of housing the now more than 6,350 refugees. 

Over 4,300 are in the city’s shelter system, while an additional 2,000 people are in a “bridging program” in local hotels. 

Coun. Jon Burnside asked Tanner why one of those hotels is located in Vaughan, while acknowledging that it lies just over the city boundary line north of Steeles Avenue.

“How far outside of the city would you look?” he said of the hunt for space. “I know it’s about a block, but would you look up to Caledon or Orangeville?”

“This is an anomaly for us to be looking for rooms in Vaughan,” Tanner said. “But it’s due to the unavailability of hotel rooms here in Toronto.”

Tanner said families are typically staying six months in the shelter hotels until they’re able to transition to housing of their own.

The city has been leasing space in the hotel since April 2023, and 19 families, 14 of which are refugee claimants, are staying there.

Bridging program doesn’t offer wrap-around supports

Coun. Lily Cheng pressed Tanner about the nature of the bridging program, asking how those 2,000 spaces are different from the 10,000 spots in the city’s traditional homeless shelter system.

“So, it’s kind of an extension of our shelters, especially if they’re staying for six months,” she said. “It sounds like a shelter.”

Tanner said the nearly 600 families in shelter hotels don’t have access to wrap-around supports offered in shelters.

The committee has endorsed the spending, but it will still need approval from city council later this month to move forward.

Mayor Olivia Chow said Thursday the struggle to house the large influx of refugees will continue to put a strain on city resources for the foreseeable future. Layered onto that is the crunch for hotel rooms as Toronto’s peak summer tourism season approaches.

“A hotel is an expensive way to go, but we have no alternatives,” Chow said. “And as we approach the tourism season, we can’t find enough hotels, which is why you’re seeing the contract in there.” 

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