System ‘isn’t going to work’: As Peel waits for federal funding, shelters reach 383% occupancy; Region explores more dorm-style facilities 

System ‘isn’t going to work’: As Peel waits for federal funding, shelters reach 383% occupancy; Region explores more dorm-style facilities 

Despite allocating additional funding and securing more shelter spaces, the Region of Peel still cannot keep up with the influx of asylum claimants seeking refuge in its emergency shelter system, which, according to a staff report presented Thursday, is currently 383 percent over capacity. 

Asylum claimants, which historically only accounted for approximately five percent of Peel’s shelter population, are currently occupying 72 percent of the available shelter and overflow hotel beds in Peel, the report revealed.  

“The numbers are extraordinary, and they have not been slowing down in any way,” Sean Baird, Peel’s commissioner of human services, told councillors during Thursday’s meeting. “There's been no slowdown in the volumes across anywhere in the GTA, including Peel.”

This revelation, while shocking, is not new. In a motion to regional council on February 8, Mississauga Councillor Dipika Damerla eluded that the Region’s emergency shelter system was even more dire than previously reported, noting Peel’s shelters were 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, another substantial increase from 247 percent at the beginning of October.

According to the report presented to regional council Thursday, as of February 4, there were approximately 1,529 asylum claimants in Peel’s shelter system — a drastic 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. The report notes “the influx of asylum claimants is expected to continue at current, or increased, levels.” Previous predictions from the federal government estimated that in 2023 alone, Ontario was on track to receive more than 72,000 asylum claimants — nearly twice as many as the previous year — and the arrival of inland asylum claimants is anticipated to continue to increase over the next few years. 

“In 2023, due to global conflicts and crises, Peel, like many other municipalities across Ontario, experienced a sharp and unprecedented increase in the number of asylum claimants in need of support. This number surpassed historical norms in the spring of 2023 and has continued to rise exponentially,” Thursday’s report states. 

With no relief on the horizon, in response to the worsening problem, the Region has opened six more overflow hotels to meet the demand for shelter beds, bringing Peel’s total count to 11 — an approach that cost the Region an additional $26.9 million in 2023, but recent reports to Peel’s councils anticipate these costs will exceed more than $68 million in 2024. The Region has submitted a claim to the federal government’s Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP) for incurred costs, “but this approach is not cost-effective nor viable over the long-term,” the staff report cautions.

“Continuing to support asylum claimants through the shelter system and overflow hotels is not sustainable. A different approach, with appropriate sustainable allocation-based funding is required to improve service to asylum claimants, while reclaiming space in the shelter system for local individuals and families experiencing homelessness.”

As the current crisis stretches the Region’s resources, a second death has been reported at Mississauga’s Dundas shelter. According to reports, Peel Regional Paramedic Services confirmed it was called to the Dundas Shelter around 2:30 p.m. Sunday to tend to a woman in her 40s in medical distress. The Service said emergency personnel were unable to revive the woman, and she was pronounced dead in hospital. Citing privacy concerns, Peel paramedics have not shared any details about the possible cause of death. A spokesperson from the Region confirmed to The Pointer on Friday the asylum claimant was a Kenyan woman who arrived at the Dundas shelter in need of a place to stay.

“After experiencing a medical emergency at the shelter, she was taken to the hospital where she passed away,” the spokesperson explained. “The hospital does not feel that the death is suspicious and there is no police involvement.”

“I want to offer my deepest condolences to her loved ones and to the broader asylum claimant and African communities. We need to do better,” the spokesperson added. “We will continue to advocate to all levels of government for more funding to support the settlement and integration of asylum seekers; while expanding access to and investing more in housing subsidy, wraparound supports, and health care for vulnerable communities.”

This recent death comes less than three months after The Pointer reported an asylum claimant staying in a tent outside the Dundas Street Shelter in Mississauga died while waiting for a space to open up inside.


The Region’s shelter capacity has soared in recent months, with staff reporting Peel’s emergency shelter system is at 383 percent of capacity.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer) 


As regional officials struggle to come up with more sustainable and cost-efficient solutions to address the rising demand, Thursday’s report featured a series of recommendations, including that the Region enter into accommodations agreements for two new asylum claimant emergency shelters, which were to be approved through the meeting’s closed session report on the February 22 agenda and have not yet been made publicly available, and that staff “enter into Direct Negotiations with and award contracts to service provider(s) possessing the required expertise and specialized supports/services, for the provision of emergency shelter operator services,” as well as “award contracts to Vendor(s) for necessary capital improvements at the emergency shelters not covered under lease agreements, subject to available budget and /or external funding.”

It also recommended “the Director of Housing Services and the Director of Procurement be authorized to enter into and award Direct Negotiations with vendors, suppliers, and service providers as may be necessary for the facility start-up, operations of emergency shelter facilities, accommodation of asylum claimants, and the provision of community support services to those asylum claimants temporarily housed in the emergency shelter facilities.”

When asked for details on the closed session reports, another spokesperson from the Region said in an email, “Unfortunately we cannot provide additional details around the asylum claimant shelters including their locations, expected open dates and what additional services they will provide.” The spokesperson also would not comment on the number of encampments around Peel shelters.

The report recommendations come as Peel waits on funding from the federal government — a delay that has regional councillors frustrated as its neighbour to the east continues to receive funding. 

At the end of January, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller announced the federal government would be providing $362 million — a funding amount “determined by the income provinces would need to have for the coming year” — to municipalities helping asylum claimants and other refugees who require immediate accommodation in an effort to address the stream of asylum claimants coming across Canada’s borders.

The announcement was part of the IHAP — used as a “stopgap measure,” by the federal government “to deal with large historic flows of migration” — providing funding to lower-tier governments on a cost-sharing basis “to address extraordinary interim housing pressures resulting from increased volumes of asylum claimants.” At the time of the announcement, Miller assured more details of funding allocations, which he said “should be sufficient in the short term,” to prevent asylum claimants from experiencing homelessness would be revealed in the coming days.

Although the funding comes as Mississauga and Brampton’s shelter systems operate far beyond capacity, the Region has received no indication of how much funding Peel will receive, if any. Since making the announcement, nearly a month later, the federal government remains reluctant to offer any details to the Region on immediate funding support, while several staff reports make it clear Peel’s emergency shelter system is only getting increasingly grave. 

“IRCC remains in regular discussions with Peel Region with respect to their request. Amounts are determined based on those requests and the overall funding envelope for the program,” IRCC communications advisor Matthew Krupovich explained in another scripted response to The Pointer, repeating the same statements made in the weeks following the announcement. He once again did not provide any indication of funding that will flow to Peel, or how much the Region could receive, having previously stated, “We are reviewing their requests and will share details with them once they become available.” 

The delay has left Peel councillors frustrated after making repeated calls to their federal partners for immediate assistance. The only specific amount Miller committed under IHAP to date 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, bringing its total funding through IHAP to $240 million in the last year after Toronto received a $97 million top-up in July as part of the $212 million in federal funding announced through the program for 2023-2024. Toronto is struggling with by far the largest number of asylum claimants of any municipality in the country, currently servicing over 5,500 asylum seekers within its system, according to numbers provided by Baird. 

When the federal government announced the $212 million funding envelope, it had requested all other municipalities, including Peel, submit a funding request. While there was no guaranteed allocation amount, staff submitted a claim for funding from the federal program in hopes that some of Peel’s shelter costs for 2023 would be reimbursed. 

Krupovich previously 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,” adding “Amounts are determined based on those requests and the overall funding envelope for the program.” 

Baird noted while the Region spent a total of $26.8 million in 2023, the federal government has only reimbursed Peel $10 million through IHAP — a funding amount that was intended to cover the Region’s expenses up until the end of October. He added that staff have submitted an additional claim to the federal government under the program to cover the remainder of 2023, including the unpaid amounts up to October. Baird previously warned funding through this program would not take would not carry the shelter system into 2024 and that if no additional funding was confirmed, supporting asylum claimants would likely drive a 2023 deficit in the Region’s supportive housing service. 

“We have an indication that there will be some reimbursement to cover November in December, but we have no indication yet of what that figure will be,” Baird explained. 


The Region has yet to receive the $7 million previously promised by the federal government in November for a new reception centre near Pearson Regional Airport, Baird told councillors Thursday.

(Lumi W/Unsplash)


“We're meeting and talking with IRCC, essentially on a weekly basis right now,” he assured councillors on Thursday, noting Peel remains the focus area for the reception centre the federal government promised $7 million in funding for in November — funds he said the Region has not yet received — near Pearson International Airport for more streamlined services and supports to help asylum claimants as they arrive, including additional shelter space as Peel’s emergency housing systems cannot accommodate the increasing need. 

“The $7 million that was announced late in 2023 has not yet been received by the Region of Peel, and those funds were intended to help with capital support to get the reception centre up and running,” he explained, adding that although the Region hasn’t yet incurred the capital costs, “I can assure you the cost to get it up and running will exceed that $7 million…. and we will actually require more.”

In its correspondence, the IRCC also did not provide any timeline for when the previously pledged $7 million would be allocated to the Region for the reception centre. 

As the Region waits on funding from Ottawa, in effort to alleviate some of the strain placed on its existing shelter spaces while helping to improve service and reduce costs, Thursday’s report explained “the Region is shifting to a new, more sustainable model for supporting asylum claimants in Peel” outside of the shelter system. To accomplish this, staff will be opening dorm-style shelter facilities for asylum claimants, in addition to designing the Regional Reception Centre, in partnership with upper levels of government and neighbouring municipalities.

Hoping to reduce the Region’s reliance on overflow hotel spaces to shelter those in need and free up spaces in the shelter system, the Region opened a dorm-style temporary shelter site specifically for asylum claimants in December, providing 228 additional beds for asylum claimants seeking a roof over their head. The site provides short-term accommodations, settlement supports and other services on-site. Baird noted by mid-January, the facility was already operating at 100 percent occupancy. 

“Now we're back into a state of operating on day to day vacancy. So as a room becomes available, we reach out and offer that up to one of the clients who doesn't have shelter just yet,” he explained.


In an effort to alleviate the strain placed on Peel’s shelter systems, the Region opened a dorm-style temporary shelter site specifically for asylum claimants in December, freeing up 228 additional spaces.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer) 


Additional sites are needed to relocate the remaining individuals residing in the shelter system and overflow hotels. Staff anticipate the proposed sites, as were laid out in the accompanying “Closed Session report” (which has not yet been made publicly available) will provide space across Peel to support both families and individuals outside of the shelter system, “using a flexible approach that can change based on need.” 

“We have also begun conversations with… municipalities across the entire GTA to talk about what a broader model can and should look like,” Baird explained. “That encompasses all things such as funding, allocations of individuals taking on folks after they're able to exit those temporary shelters and then take up permanent housing, not just in Peel, but perhaps in other municipalities across the GTA as well.” 

In response to the growing concerns around the financial burden placed on the Region as a result of the surge in asylum claimants, Damerla’s motion requested officials 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. 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.” It noted that unless the federal government starts funding the $85 million the Region has asked for to support asylum claimants, Peel residents could be looking at a six percent increase in property taxes.

Baird said the Region has received indication from IRCC it will now be accepting applications for reimbursement through IHAP for the first quarter of 2024 and staff will be preparing a proposal for the federal and provincial governments based on Peel’s expenses to request additional funding for the reception centre, temporary shelter facilities and ongoing supports. Full details will be provided to regional council in March when staff return with a complete cost analysis and proposed funding model to open and operate the regional reception centre and temporary shelter sites for asylum claimants. 

“We expect some level of reimbursement, but if history is any indicator, we do not expect that we will receive 100 percent reimbursement,” he warned. “So far in 2023 we received 38 percent reimbursement of our costs. For 2024, we're estimating $68 million, and we don't have a good indication of what will happen beyond March.”  

Although Minister Miller previously commended the IHAP for getting “shelters over people's heads,” he acknowledged “it needs reform” and does not make up for the failures of other levels of government that are not protecting asylum claimants within their borders. Despite recognizing the program is “a very expensive stopgap measure,” he said it is “essential in the context to keep shelters over people’s heads.” 

Echoing Miller’s previous comments, on Thursday Baird told councillors, “The reality is there is not a good centralized system in place to address this. Historically, there have been very low numbers, and so IRCC has been quite happy to rely on the variety of different social structures that are out there, either municipal or provincial, across the country and that has worked reasonably well.”

“To date in 2023, and 24, we're just realizing now, that loosely affiliated structure isn't going to work anymore.”  



Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @mcpaigepeacock

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