Asylum seekers are sleeping on Toronto streets again. How did we end up here?

The re-emerging situation is something the city says it forecasted this summer when the issue first came to a head, with hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees stuck on streets with nowhere to go.

Over 90 refugee claimants will be moved to a hotel in Windsor, church says

A person can be seen sleeping on the ground, with cardboard underneath them. Luggage can be seen nearby.
Refugee claimants are once again sleeping on Toronto streets. Pictured are refugee claimants outside of the city's central intake building at 129 Peter St. on Wednesday. The city says its shelter system is at capacity and is turning away about 300 people each day. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Hundreds of people — including those seeking asylum — have once again taken to sleeping on Toronto's streets in front of shelters and churches.

The city's shelter system is once again at capacity, turning away nearly 300 people a day, the city said Thursday. While it's continuously moving "dozens" of people from overflowing churches to shelters, hotels or permanent housing where possible, it is nowhere close to meeting demand, said Lindsay Broadhead, the city's chief communication officer.

"Nothing that's happening right now is good enough," said Broadhead.

"What we're trying to do is make the best and highest use with what we can do and look to our other levels of government partners to support."

The re-emerging situation is something the Broadhead says the city forecasted this summer when hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees were stuck on streets with nowhere to go. The issue made headlines, with three churches in north Toronto housing mainly Black refugees and asylum seekers when the city's overburdened shelter system couldn't offer them beds.

LISTEN | How refugee claimants ended up on Toronto streets:
Refugee claimants and asylum seekers have been sleeping on Toronto’s streets for weeks, due to a lack of housing and an overwhelmed shelter system. While the federal government has pledged new funding to provide housing, some churches and organizations have felt forced to fill the gap by providing direct assistance. Guest host Rosemary Barton speaks to two refugee advocates about how things got so bad — and what needs to be fixed long term.

Last month, the city requested an additional $750,000 in funding from the federal government to compensate the churches and community organizations housing those on the streets, but Broadhead says the government missed their September deadline, forcing the city and community organizations to make do again instead.

In an email to CBC Toronto, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it had already allocated an extra $97 million in funding this summer to Toronto to help provide interim housing for asylum claimants. Beyond that, it says it's "working closely with most impacted provinces and municipalities" to provide support.

"Responding to the needs of asylum claimants requires collaboration and engagement... The Government of Canada has been and will continue to be there for the province of Ontario and the city of Toronto, but in order to address the global migration crisis, we must have full engagement from all levels of government."

As of Sept. 25, the department says it had almost 3,500 hotel rooms in six provinces for temporary housing for asylum claimants. 

Church struggles to provide claimants with shelter

At Dominion Church International in North York, volunteers have been housing hundreds of asylum seekers since the summer, but say they had to turn away some Wednesday night.

Volunteers say use of the church space was restricted by their landlord, limiting the number of asylum seekers they could take in. 

"We were antsy, we were nervous, we did not know where they were going to end up," said Miriam Kutesa, the site manager.

Empty cots with blankets and other belongings are pictured inside a room.
Roughly 150 refugee claimants, many from African countries, have been living in the Dominion Church International in North York. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

More than 100 people were asked to move to the street as a result, said Rev. Eddie Jjumba, a volunteer at the church.

But after word of the new group of stranded asylum seekers spread, Jjumba says the church was told by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on Thursday that about 92 people have been approved to move to a hotel in Windsor, Ont. 

Jjumba applauded the move but says it doesn't solve the root cause of the problem, and incoming asylum seekers will just take the beds of those who were able to land a spot at a hotel.

"We still have a serious problem of people not having an [actual] space, which is the same song we have sung for the last two months," he said.

Refugee claimants wait to be told where to go 

John Mochma says he is one of the dozens who will be going to Windsor. He called the move "good news" that came just in time, and doesn't mind he'll be moving away from the city.

"People were very happy... We thank God for all this," said Mochma.

"The only thing I need is ... a place to sleep and to wake up," he said, adding he's willing to work and pay taxes.

A man looks away from the camera. Luggage and a car can be seen behind him.
John Mochma says himself and other refugee claimants staying at Dominion Church International in North York were excited to hear they had the opportunity to move to a hotel in Windsor, Ont. (Radio-Canada)

Aside from the church, many refugee claimants are sleeping outside of Toronto's central intake building at 129 Peter St.

Ayodele Ahmed is one of them. He says he's been sleeping in front of the central intake building since he arrived from Nigeria on Tuesday.

Ahmed says he's been told to wait for them the city's intake centre to call and instruct him on where to go next, but exactly when that call will come is up in the air.

"Since we don't have a choice at the moment, there's nothing more we can do. [We have] to wait for the government to provide help," said Ahmed. 

"I don't have a means to get a house or a place to stay. I'll be waiting on them to give a call back."

Trudeau says situation is 'unacceptable'

Mayor Olivia Chow said Thursday half of the people the city is turning away are refugees, with the city sheltering almost 5,000 of them in the interim. On its website, the city recorded 9,988 people who have used its shelter services in the past three months and have not been moved to permanent housing. 

"I apologize for that," she said. "The city has done everything it can ... We need both the provincial and federal government, especially the federal government, to step in and help."

At a news conference in Vaughan on Thursday, when asked about asylum seekers sleeping in the streets of Toronto once again, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the situation "unacceptable." 

"We know there's more to do, so we're going to continue to be there, to work with the City of Toronto, and we're also continuing to call on the provincial government to step up around its responsibilities as well to make sure the most vulnerable are supported and housed."

Alexandru Cioban, spokesperson for Housing Minister Paul Calandra, said in a statement Friday that the province recently announced an additional $26.42 million top-up to the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit.

Cioban said this funding will help "thousands of people" in Toronto move into permanent housing.

"Historically, the federal government contributes two-thirds of the cost of this program, and to meet this commitment to help even more people move into permanent housing, we continue to call on the federal government to fund their share," the statement said.


Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto. She likes writing stories about labour, equity, accessibility and community. She previously worked for CBC News in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. She has a keen interest in covering the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. You can reach her at

With files from Dale Manucdoc, Anam Khan and Jeremie Bergeron