‘Success for the entire community’: Refugees stuck on city streets relocated to North York church
Published Monday, July 17, 2023 10:57PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 17, 2023 10:57PM EDT
Dozens of refugees that had been camped out on the streets of downtown Toronto for weeks were relocated to a church in North York Monday night.
Paramount Fine Foods Founder Mohamad Fakih helped organize the move, alongside numerous community organizations and volunteers.
“They're not here anymore. They're off the street and it wasn't tomorrow, it’s today that it happened,” Fakih told CP24 Monday night.
Earlier in the day, Fakih personally pledged to donate at least $20,000 to house the more than 30 refugees who had been camped outside a shelter intake centre on Peter Street with nowhere to go.
“We will be providing them with a place to sleep, to shower and to have a roof over their head on the same night and that's a great success for the entire community,” Fakih said.
Last month, the City of Toronto began referring refugees to federal programs, saying its shelter system was too full to accept anyone new. But advocates say the city is simply telling refugees to “call Service Canada,” a move they call a “cruel wild-goose chase.”
With nowhere else to go, many refugees chose to camp out in the hopes that a shelter spot opened up, but very few do.
According to the city, Toronto hasn’t received any new funding for refugee shelter spaces since last year, when the federal government provided money to cover the costs of asylum seekers who accessed Toronto’s shelter system in 2022.
Meanwhile, there was a 440 per cent increase in refugee claimants in May, compared to September 2021, the city says.
But a group of community advocates said in an open letter on Monday that when compared to 2018 data, the uptick in refugee claimants in May represents only an 11 per cent increase.
The letter accused the head of Toronto’s shelter system of “repeated mismanagement,” and called on him to step down.
Fakih said for many of the refugees, their experience in Canada so far has been harrowing, as they’ve been promised help at every turn, but in the end have been turned away.
“There's a trust problem here. I had to actually convince them to go because they have been promised help many times,” Fakih said.
“Even in some instances, I'm hearing that they have been taken to places but those people decided to bring them back or the treatment was bad enough that they didn't want to stay. Shame on us all for letting that happen.”
Nearly all of the refugees that had been camped out downtown were picked up by bus and taken to the International Revival Church in North York, according to Fakih, who said that additional refugees from different areas in the city also came to be transported when they heard help was being offered.
Fakih says that he hopes this quick and decisive action that has been taken to help refugees in Toronto can demonstrate to all levels of government that “when there is a will, there is definitely a way.”
“I know it's a cliché, but there is a way. We moved many, many [people] off the streets today and there are many more to go,” Fakih added.
“We want them to have a roof above their head. We want them to start again and tell them despite their first four or five days in Canada, we're going to show you that the Canadian dream is the best in the world.”
With files from Codi Wilson and CTV News Toronto’s Hannah Alberga.