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Toronto opening 800 emergency spaces to deal with influx of refugee claimants

Last Updated May 24, 2018 at 6:00 am PDT

Mayor John Tory stands in front of the media in Toronto on Tuesday April 18, 2017.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – Toronto is opening two emergency reception centres to deal with an influx of refugee claimants, less than a week after the mayor warned that the current system was nearly at capacity.

Beginning Thursday, Toronto will temporarily house refugee claimants and new arrivals in 400 beds at the Centennial College Residence and Conference Centre in the city’s east end.

And the city says it will also begin using 400 beds at Humber College in the west end to house refugee claimants as of June 1.

Last Friday, Mayor John Tory said the city would have to take emergency measures if the federal and Ontario governments didn’t act to relieve the growing pressure refugee claimants are putting on the city’s shelter system.

The city said the province facilitated the availability of the college dormitories and has committed up to $3 million in Red Cross staffing costs as part of an anticipated $6.3 million total cost of operating the sites for the next 75 days.

These contingency sites will only be available until early August, when the rooms will be required for returning students.

At that time, the city’s emergency protocol may require the use of municipal facilities, including active City community centres, to relocate refugee claimants in Toronto and accommodate new arrivals, officials said.

The city says 368 refugee claimants have entered Toronto’s shelter system since April 19.

At the current rate of arrivals, the city projects that refugee claimants will represent nearly 54 per cent of Toronto’s shelter population by November.

“We have triggered our emergency protocol to help these families in their time of need, with some support from the government of Ontario, but require the federal government to take immediate steps to permanently relieve this unprecedented pressure on the city’s shelter system,” Tory said Wednesday.

James Kilgour, who directs Toronto’s office of emergency management, said Wednesday that the city’s shelter system has reached its capacity to accommodate new arrivals and it has activated a protocol to secure contingency housing sites and Red Cross staffing support.

“This is part of the city’s compassionate and co-ordinated approach to dealing with unprecedented events and emergency situations,” Kilgour said.