Long-term solution to aid asylum seekers in Peel requires 100% funding from upper levels of government, Region says
(The Pointer Files)

Long-term solution to aid asylum seekers in Peel requires 100% funding from upper levels of government, Region says

The Region of Peel is working to develop a more sustainable, “person-centred” service model to accommodate the increasing number of asylum seekers looking for help through its already strained emergency shelter system. The move comes after years of Peel shelters operating well over capacity and with little action on behalf of elected officials. 

In November, the federal government announced $7 million for the Region of Peel to create a reception centre at Pearson International Airport to help connect asylum seekers with necessary services and housing. It’s unclear whether the project has gotten off the ground, with regional staff noting in a March report that they are approaching an opening date, but further funding is needed and the current plan is not a long-term solution. The Region would not confirm whether the centre is currently operational. 

“The asylum claimant response represents a new service line for Peel and other municipalities in Ontario. It is no longer a short-term crisis, but rather a longer-term issue that requires a strategic solution with sustainable funding,” a staff report states. 

“The position in this report is that this is immigration policy. It is inappropriate for municipal governments to fund this work. We're happy as we're doing today to be the delivery arm of a properly funded program by the federal and provincial governments,” Aileen Baird, director of housing services for the Region, told councillors on March 21.  “That's the position and we're ready…to start to shift our advocacy and take it up several notches in order to move from this emergency crisis where no one is happy with the outcomes we're achieving to something that's again, a far more sustainable, people-centered and appropriate and dignified for those seeking refuge in Canada.”

The proposed funding model “is premised on the fact that immigration policy and supports to newcomers are the shared responsibility of the federal and provincial governments.” 

It's a contradictory assumption to an earlier statement made by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), which asserted that while the federal government recognizes the need for all levels of government to work together, “housing and supports for asylum claimants are the responsibility of provinces and municipalities.”

Similar to the Region’s previous failure with its Home for All plan, this dramatic shift in service delivery—something that is desperately needed to help the growing number of people arriving in Peel from war-torn countries—hinges on support from upper levels of government. 

Regional staff say costs are currently “being borne disproportionately by municipalities with their limited funding tools and resources.”   If further assistance is not provided, the Region warns services could soon be curtailed. 

“If Peel does not receive the appropriate level of funding from the federal and provincial governments, Peel may need to limit its response, which could result in more street homelessness and encampments, and negatively impact or stall an asylum claimant’s settlement journey.” 

Asylum claimant households account for 67 percent of occupants in Peel’s shelter system, according to latest numbers from the Region. Although it is a slight decrease from the 72 percent reported in February, there is still no relief in sight for Peel’s emergency shelter systems, which are notoriously overburdened. 

The dire consequences of this crisis, which has been exacerbated by regional elected officials ignoring a struggling shelter system for years, were made clear this past winter when two deaths were reported in a three-month period by the Region as a result of the lack of sufficient shelter space. Both occurred in the vicinity of Mississauga’s Dundas shelter. The first death took place in November when an asylum claimant died while staying in a tent outside the cramped Dundas shelter. Three months later, a second death sent another shockwave through the community when Peel Regional Paramedic Services were called on February 18th to tend to a woman in her 40s in medical distress, later identified as Delphina Ngigi. She was an asylum seeker from Kenya. Emergency personnel were unable to revive Ngigi, and she was pronounced dead in hospital.


 Death at encampment outside Dundas shelter signals urgent need for Peel to fund emergency housing

An encampment outside Peel’s Dundas shelter in November 2023.



The Region of Peel has known for years that its shelter system operation was not sustainable. Capacity issues have only gotten worse in recent years—reaching 400% capacity in February—and the budget for housing shelter claimants in hotels has ballooned. The overflow hotel budget has increased to nearly 20 times what it was just five years ago

Recognizing the current approach is not sustainable, staff initiated the development of this new model built around two main components: the establishment of a permanent Regional Reception Centre near Pearson International Airport, with connections to other municipalities and the creation of dedicated shelter facilities specifically for asylum claimants. 

The staff report assured councillors that “efforts to establish more sustainable solutions, including dedicated shelter sites and a Regional Reception Centre, are in progress.” Details on the two additional shelters and the proposed property acquisition agreements/proposed land acquisitions were presented to council in a confidential report during the March 21st meeting, but no information has been shared publicly. 

“Unfortunately we cannot provide additional details around the asylum claimant shelters including their locations, expected open dates and what additional services they will provide,” a regional spokesperson said. The Region also would not comment on the number of encampments around Peel shelters. 

Even with these steps, Peel staff say the Region can not move forward with these new operations if they do not secure 100 percent funding from upper levels of government.  

“We would not recommend to council that we open the Regional Reception Centre unless we're guaranteed the funding. It's too risky, and it's inappropriate,” Aileen Baird told councillors. “One of the challenges we're facing today is because there's no funding for any other supports, besides emergency shelter, it's impossible to move asylum claimants out of emergency shelter and along in their settlement journey.”


The surge in asylum claimants has only exacerbated Peel’s already pressured shelters, with refugees currently accounting for approximately 67 percent of shelter occupants.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer Files) 


The report, approved by council, recommended staff negotiate with all levels of government for the adoption of the Region’s latest asylum claimant response and that it be 100 percent funded between the provincial and federal government, including the development of a Regional Reception Centre. The report states Peel is seeking funding to support 1,280 asylum claimants per month.

“We'd like to establish a service level of 1,280 asylum claimants so that we have a council indoor ceiling, because right now there's no ceiling. We just keep expanding and expanding and expanding to meet the need, and there's no ceiling,” Aileen Baird explained. “We're still just trying, and struggling, to keep our head above the water providing emergency support to asylum claimants.”

Peel staff estimate this will cost $69,135 per asylum claimant served in Peel and $61,835 per asylum claimant referred to other municipalities from the regional reception centre under the new model. 


A breakdown of costs for Peel’s proposed service model.

(Region of Peel)


This funding would allow Peel to provide incoming claimants with temporary housing, initial settlement support and assistance facilitating their integration into the community. Services at the future reception centre site will include needs assessments, service navigation, orientation sessions, legal aid, IRCC information, Ontario Works information, language and settlement services, and health services where necessary. Onsite support will be offered by existing settlement and other support agencies in the GTHA. The centre will aim to offer five days of respite shelter for up to 200 individuals and 20 families with the possibility of virtual services available. It would also create a system to coordinate with other municipalities to assist in transitioning asylum seekers out of temporary shelters and into the community.  

Distribution to participating municipalities will be based on population, “with plans to evolve towards aligning asylum claimants with employment opportunities across municipalities,” the report states. After moving to another municipality, asylum claimants are expected to receive up to 90 days of temporary housing while they work towards community integration with local settlement agencies. It notes five municipalities have shown interest in receiving asylum claimants from the centre, “contingent on receiving adequate and sustainable funding.”

“Until upper levels of government commit to fair, reliable funding, consistent with their responsibilities, municipal governments like Peel, will be constrained to providing reactive, emergency supports to asylum claimants, shouldering a disproportionate amount of responsibility for this global crisis.”

But this multi-million approach is unlikely to be welcomed by the federal government. 

“If history is any indicator, we do not expect that we will receive 100 percent reimbursement,” Sean Baird, Peel’s commissioner of human services, told councillors in February when the Region was preparing its IHAP claim for the first quarter of 2024.

Peel has taken several steps to provide emergency assistance to asylum claimants over the last year. 

In June 2023 when the rates of asylum seekers flooding to Peel’s emergency shelter systems started to surge, the Region began expanding its shelter capacity, adding 123 beds and six overflow hotels, bringing its total to 11 — an approach that cost the Region an additional $26.9 million in 2023. But, despite efforts to allocate additional funding and secure more shelter spaces, the Region has failed to keep up.

A recent report to regional council illustrated how, since the beginning of June 2023, Peel has seen an exponential rise in asylum claimants requiring its shelter supports.

(Region of Peel)


In January, when the country reported approximately 7,300 asylum claimants staying in roughly 4,000 hotel rooms provided by the federal government in six provinces, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller announced another lump of funding in an effort to address the issue. The announcement included just over $362 million, as part of the federal government’s IHAP, to be allocated to municipalities helping asylum claimants and other refugees who require immediate accommodation.  

Under IHAP the federal government provides funding to provinces and municipalities, on a cost-sharing basis, for expenses incurred providing interim housing to asylum claimants. Minister Miller cautioned that recent financial aid does not compensate for other levels of government failing to protect asylum claimants within their borders, and “is very much an interim program” and “a very expensive stopgap measure.”

“We have completed the review of Peel's final claim under IHAP for the calendar year 2023 expenses and can confirm that, pending Peel’s signature on a draft funding agreement, we will reimburse them with an additional $12.4 million under the IHAP for 2023 costs,” IRCC communications advisor Matthew Krupovich told The Pointer in an email. “With the $10 million installment payment provided by IRCC in December, this totals $22.4 million in IHAP reimbursement to Peel for 2023” — an amount Peel staff say covers 95 percent of the Region’s costs incurred last year.  

Krupovich added IRCC is continuing to work closely with officials from the Region of Peel and is expecting to receive Peel’s claim for first quarter of 2024 costs “in the coming weeks.”

Last week the federal government rolled out a series of housing announcements in advance of its 2024 budget, planned for release on April 16th. Part of those pre-budget announcements was the Liberal government’s new housing plan. It notes the government is considering a further expansion of the IHAP program to assist municipalities in serving the growing number of asylum seekers.  



The Region of Peel is seeking 100 percent funding from the federal government to offer a long-term solution to assisting asylum seekers, including a reception centre near Pearson Airport.

(Lumi W/Unsplash) 


In addition to the reception centre, Peel is also working to reduce the Region’s reliance on overflow hotels and free up spaces in the shelter system. To do so, the Region is transitioning from placing the burden on its current shelters and moving towards utilizing dorm-style facilities for housing asylum claimants. Peel opened a dorm-style temporary shelter site specifically for asylum claimants in December where it is operating on a “day to day vacancy,” according to Sean Baird. The new shelter site opened up 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 revealed that by mid-January, the facility was already operating at 100 percent occupancy. The March 21 staff report highlighted plans are underway to expand the facility in May to accommodate an additional 80 people.

The March 21 report adds that if Peel continues to receive the same level of funding under IHAP as it did for 2023 (95 percent), it would be required to cover approximately $2.1 million in operational costs in 2024, and $1.7 million in operating costs.

Staff said they will manage the additional costs within the Region’s housing support operating budget.



Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @mcpaigepeacock

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