Ottawa won’t designate funding amount for Peel to support overwhelmed emergency shelters, frustrating councillors
As the federal government provides Toronto with another funding envelope to help asylum claimants access the city’s overwhelmed shelter system, officials to the west in Peel are asking for equivalent taxpayer-provided dollars to address unprecedented emergency needs in Ontario’s second largest region.
A motion from Mississauga Councillor Dipika Damerla, presented to regional council on February 8, highlighted that the Region’s emergency shelter system was at nearly 400 percent occupancy. Before that, the most recent numbers from the Region at the end of 2023 reported Peel’s emergency shelter systems were 321 percent over capacity, up from 247 percent at the beginning of October.
The Pointer previously reported that, according to reports from the Region, there were 128 known encampments where small numbers of people were sheltering in the final months of 2023, a 167 percent increase from 2022. No updated data has been provided by the Region.
Region of Peel shelters have been operating well beyond capacity since the beginning of last summer, according to staff reports.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Damerla’s motion last week acknowledged “asylum seekers have the right to build a life free from fear of persecution and deprivation in Canada,” noting the Region invested approximately $26.9 million in 2023 and is forecasted to invest nearly $68.4 million in 2024 to support the needs of asylum seekers in the emergency shelter system. The federal government, according to her motion, has only reimbursed Peel Region $10 million for 2023 under the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP), which according to a spokesperson for the federal government “is still not finalized.”
The resolution requests the Region continue to call on the federal government to fully fund Peel’s IHAP application for 2023 with an addition of $16.9 million, and allocate another $68.4 million through the program for the forecasted costs “to support the settlement and integration” of asylum seekers in Peel for 2024. It also asked the federal government to fully reimburse the Region for the $9 million in costs associated with Peel’s Ukrainian humanitarian response.
“I was quite surprised, frankly, shocked… there was no mention of Peel,” Damerla said during Thursday’s meeting on the federal government’s funding announcement. “If the money doesn’t come through we’d have to put it on the property tax base… so I think it's in everyone’s best interest, including the federal government, to fund us.”
The motion also called on the federal government to change the IHAP “from a competitive application-based funding process to an allocation-based formula-driven funding process” and that the motion and the costs in the Region’s 2023 IHAP claim to the IRCC be shared with all federal MPs in Peel, Peel MPPs and the Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Damerla’s claims come after her previous efforts to cap Peel’s own budget, which critics said was a shameless way to pander to voters while putting social services at risk. Damerla has done little to push for increased funding for Peel’s shelter system but now wants other levels of government to step in. The humanitarian crisis has exposed municipalities such as Peel, which have largely ignored the need for affordable housing and transitional support for those in precarious circumstances, compared to Toronto which has received designated funding from Ottawa because its current needs are far greater than any other municipality and because its council members have approved much higher amounts per capita in the City’s budget for these forms of accommodation, than places like Peel.
“We need to continuously reach out to our upper tiers to highlight that this council and our staff are constantly dealing with the ramifications of some of their decisions, some of their oversights, and some of the inaction on this,” Caledon Councillor Mario Russo said during Thursday’s regional council meeting. “This can’t come quick enough from my perspective and anything that we can do to alleviate some of these pressures has to get done quickly.”
Two weeks ago, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller announced another cache of funding in an effort to address the stream of asylum claimants coming across Canada’s borders. Just over $362 million will be allocated to municipalities helping asylum claimants and other refugees who require immediate accommodation.
As of three weeks ago, approximately 7,300 asylum claimants in need of housing were staying in roughly 4,000 hotel rooms provided by the federal government in six provinces, according to the Minister.
The announcement was part of the IHAP, which provides funding to lower-tier governments on a cost-sharing basis, “to address extraordinary interim housing pressures resulting from increased volumes of asylum claimants.” It comes as Mississauga and Brampton’s shelter systems are operating far beyond capacity, with the harrowing sight of refugees outside hotels and motels becoming an everyday reality as Peel struggles to find temporary relief for a rapidly growing number of claimants.
Since 2017, IHAP has been used as a “stopgap measure,” by the federal government “to deal with large historic flows of migration."
“The funding amount was determined by the income provinces would need to have for the coming year,” Miller explained, adding the number “should be sufficient in the short term.” Miller said at the time of the announcement that more details of funding allocations to prevent asylum claimants from experiencing homelessness would be revealed in the coming days.
But almost two weeks later, the federal government still remains guarded on details regional officials are impatiently waiting on, as pressure on Peel’s emergency shelter system gets worse. Near the end of last year, as overnight temperatures became more dangerous, an asylum claimant staying in a tent outside the Dundas Street Shelter in Mississauga died while waiting for a space to open up inside.
“IRCC remains in regular discussions with municipalities, including the Region of Peel, with respect to their requests, and the scope of their expenses,” IRCC communications advisor Matthew Krupovich explained in a repeated response to The Pointer after a similar one following the announcement. He did not provide any timing for funding that will flow to Peel. “We are reviewing their requests and will share details with them once they become available.”
He would not say how much taxpayer money will be returned to the Region of Peel for its emergency needs, repeating that, “the IRCC is reviewing their requests and will share details with them once they become available.”
Peel councillors have been calling for immediate assistance, but the only specific amount Miller committed under IHAP as part of the January 31 announcement was $100 million for Quebec and a more recent announcement of $143 million for the City of Toronto.
This is the second funding allocation to flow to Toronto after the City received a $97 million top-up in July as part of the $212 million in federal funding announced through the program for 2023-2024, bringing Toronto’s total funding through IHAP to $240 million in the last year, as the city struggles with by far the largest number of asylum claimants of any municipality in the country, about 4,000 in its emergency system.
On February 3, three days after the federal funding announcement, a Region of Peel spokesperson confirmed there are currently 1,300 asylum claimants staying in Peel shelters and overflow hotels. The revelation showed a dire increase from previous reports that identified 249 asylum-claimant households staying in emergency shelters, 755 staying in overflow hotels and 187 asylum-claimant individuals sleeping outside the Dundas shelter as of the end of November.
As Toronto receives compensation, Peel councillors are frustrated over the lack of attention in their region, despite their own lack of action on the housing and shelter file for decades.
Frustrated by the lack of support from upper levels of government to address the overburdened shelter systems, Peel councillors are calling on the federal government to revise the application process for grant funding to assist with housing needs.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Krupovich explained in an email that, like in previous years, “provinces and municipalities that have provided interim housing to asylum seekers are required to submit requests for reimbursement for costs incurred prior to a determination being made of the amount of the federal contribution in each case. Amounts are determined based on those requests and the overall funding envelope for the program.”
Sean Baird, Peel’s commissioner of human services, told councillors during the meeting the installments made to Toronto through IHAP are “identically the same” types of supports the Region puts in place to provide housing for asylum seekers. This includes costs for shelter space or providing overflow hotel space as well as food and supporting services to incoming refugees.
“[But] there is a very big difference,” he noted. “The allocation is made to Toronto in both of those cases while every other municipality is required to go through the IHAP program and apply for funding. The IHAP program is a temporary program, it is not a source of permanent funding for these issues. It's one that sort of waxes and wanes depending on what the needs are across the country in any given year.”
When the federal government announced the $212 million in funding under IHAP, it had requested all other municipalities, including Peel, submit a funding request, with no guaranteed allocation amount. In hopes that some of Peel’s shelter costs for 2023 would be reimbursed, staff prepared a claim for funding from the federal program. Amounts are determined based on those requests and the overall funding envelope of the program.
At the time, Baird told councillors staff were hopeful the application for federal funding would come through, but cautioned it would only cover 2023. He said the funding would not take the Region beyond the scale it’s currently at and would not carry the shelter system into 2024. Staff warned that if no additional funding is confirmed, supporting asylum claimants would likely drive a 2023 deficit in the Region’s supportive housing service.
“For the last couple of years before the asylum seeker explosion that we saw last summer, we received no IHAP funding,” he explained on Thursday. “So they’ve reconstituted that program temporarily while they work on what is a better permanent solution for this challenge that we all face.”
While Minister Miller commended the interim program for getting “shelters over people's heads,” especially with the more dangerous temperatures over the winter months, he also acknowledged “it needs reform.” Miller cautioned during the funding announcement that recent financial aid does not make up for the failures of other levels of government not protecting asylum claimants within their borders, acknowledging the current system, as is, is "not perfect" and will need to “have to be worked on... in the coming months.”
“This is very much an interim program. It's something we have to work with provinces to reform because getting into the business of hotels, this dates back to 2017, it is in reaction to the historic flows that we continue to see coming into Canada whether it's through land borders or through airports,” he said. “It's very much a very expensive stopgap measure but it's one I think has been essential in the context to keep shelters over people’s heads.”
In a media release following the Region’s meeting, Damerla said while she was pleased to see the funding for Toronto, she was “disappointed and upset that Mississauga got zero.” She noted Peel residents could be looking at a six percent increase in property taxes unless the federal government starts funding the $85 million the Region has asked for to support asylum claimants.
“Fair is fair,” Damerla stated in the release. “Mississauga needs support from the federal government, the same as Toronto.” She failed to mention her own failure as a regional councillor to advocate for local funding of Peel’s housing and emergency system. Damerla wants to keep the taxes she approves down, while now demanding that Ottawa flow more funding for a cost area that is the Region of Peel’s responsibility. Critics have, however, pointed out that Ottawa needs to do more to support its own recent policies around refugees and asylum claimants, who most Canadians welcome, but want to see assisted in humane ways.
Mississauga Councillor Dipika Damerla put forward a motion to the Region on February 8 calling for more funding from the federal government under IHAP, as well as revisions to the program.
(The Pointer files)
Previous numbers from Peel noted the Region is currently spending approximately $3.5 million a month — a cost that is currently unbudgeted for and climbing — on overflow accommodations in hotels to support the wave of refugees. Previous shelter overflow costs for 2024 were projected to reach approximately $42 million, at a minimum, but according to Damerla’s motion, those costs will exceed $68 million. The Region has reported shelter overflow costs for 2023 were estimated at $26.9 million, with approximately $15 million for asylum claimants — a disturbing increase from four years ago when Peel paid approximately $2.5 million for overflow hotel rooms.
Reports to the Region noted asylum claimants have historically accounted for approximately five percent of Peel’s shelter population. However, a November update revealed they made up nearly 66 percent of shelter occupants — “levels never before experienced in Peel,” staff noted, with 5 of the Region’s 10 overflow hotels now specifically dedicated for asylum claimants. In early 2023, it was revealed the number of contracts between private hotel operators had increased 113 percent from the previous year.
Thursday’s motion noted asylum claimants now account for more than 70 percent of Peel’s emergency shelter occupants.
As the ongoing surge in asylum claimants has left hundreds of people sleeping outside and setting up encampments as they wait for space or overflow beds to open, the federal government is anticipating the arrival of inland asylum claimants will increase over the next few years. Previous predictions anticipated that in 2023 alone, Ontario was on track to receive more than 72,000 asylum claimants — nearly twice as many as the previous year. Regional staff noted that funding under IHAP would assist with growing costs, but that continued advocacy would be required to appropriately fund the growing demand in Peel.
But as Peel calls on the federal government for more financial aid to manage the number of refugees seeking support, frustrated for having to pick up the slack in a situation it has previously asserted should be the responsibility of upper levels of government, regional councillors, past and present, are also to blame for not reforming a flawed system. Affordable housing has been chronically underfunded, creating a growing gap that forces Peel residents to fall through the cracks.
Although staff and councillors set aside an additional $25 million in the Region’s 2024 budget for housing support, reports to the Region make clear that amount will not be enough to address the current situation as shelter overflow costs for the year ahead are anticipated to now exceed $68 million.
While the influx in asylum claimants is unprecedented, as noted by regional staff, for nearly a decade, the Region of Peel has historically funded its emergency shelter system under a narrative of merely managing homelessness, rather than looking at preventative measures to address the root causes that created the crisis. Staff previously told councillors that reducing homelessness requires them to increase “investment in homelessness prevention and in permanent housing solutions.”
Damerla has not only been silent, she has called for limits on spending to make taxpayers happy.
Peel budgeted $4 million for shelter overflow space (along with $19.3 million for the whole shelter system) at the outset of 2023, amounts that were only projected to meet 75 percent of the actual need. This funding amount came as Peel Alliance to End Homelessness was estimating roughly 90,000 people in the region now require core housing, meaning their current living situation is either unsafe or far beyond affordability, with approximately 73,710 households in precarious housing situations. A previous study from the organization also found that 14,977 people are at risk of becoming homeless, 2,804 people need transitional housing and about 700 are chronically homeless each year — estimates that have since doubled.
While there appears to be a disconnect between upper levels of government and the Region on where the responsibility to support these newcomers lies, some councillors have acknowledged the Region needs to do better.
While he agreed councillors need to be getting the attention of upper levels of government to “do their part,” Mississauga Councillor Alvin Tedjo recognized the Region “still [has] an opportunity to do our part,” he told councillors in October. He noted that council “can't wait for other levels of government to come to the table,” adding “we need to show leadership and we need to be there ahead of it.”
Councillor Chris Fonseca told The Pointer in November while she “wouldn’t use the word failure,” when referring to Peel’s response to the shelter crisis, she conceded that “the current model is not equipped to address all of the various needs,” and the Region needs to do better.
“The needs have changed from what they were even five years ago to now and that is why the system itself needs to change,” she previously admitted. “What we’re seeing now is yeah, it is a crisis, it is. And we need to face that crisis.
“We’re beyond the tipping point. We need to be doing a better job.”
Email: [email protected]
At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you
Submit a correction about this story