Scott Mission answers the call to help influx of refugees find their place as new Canadians.
Last year over 75,000 asylum seekers came to Canada—a record number. CBC news reports that over the past twenty months, the number of refugees in Toronto’s shelter system has spiked by more than 500 percent.
Refugees accounted for only 500 of the City of Toronto’s 9,000 shelter beds as recently as 2021. Today, they account for one-third, or 3,000 beds. In a short span, the city has witnessed a radical need to both house refugees and help them adjust to their new lives in a new country.
Strained Social Services
While the focus has largely been about housing, the reality is that asylum-seeking new Canadians require a comprehensive system of support, including housing. Social services for refugees, like shelter beds, are in short supply or are often strained because, as the BBC reports, “the influx caught Canadian officials off guard.”
For the first time in our over 80-year history, half of Scott Mission’s emergency men’s shelter residents are refugees.
“There is a paradigm of thinking that people are homeless because they abuse substances or have mental illnesses,” remarks Julian Picon, Senior Manager of Scott Mission’s 66-bed shelter.
“These are also prevalent,” he continues, “but they don’t give the full story. The pandemic has broadened the list of people who have become hopeless.”
Many refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing persecution, and many have endured traumatic circumstances before arriving in Canada—basically penniless and with only scant clothing. They have a broad array of needs, and there is often no one to even greet them or to help them find their way.
Comprehensive, whole-person support
Friends Robert and Isaac were greeted warmly at Scott Mission’s Welcome Centre on Spadina Avenue when they walked in. Their immediate needs of a hot meal and a visit to the clothing bank were quickly met.
The friends are secondary school teachers who fled Uganda as political refugees who had supported the losing candidate in Uganda’s national election in 2021. On election day, Isaac was beaten by police because of his political support.
“Friends of ours were arrested and we never heard from them again,” says Isaac.
At Scott Mission, the two were also given counselling, invited to join a mental wellness workshop, and received legal aid and support filing their refugee status claim.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” recalls Robert of their first visit to Scott Mission. “But we came in and saw smiling faces, and right away it felt like home.”
“When you come in they welcome you,” he continues, “and give you this and that, and you receive something to eat as they arrange for help with clothing and other things.”
“Scott Mission really helped us in all ways and to get integrated in the system, bit by bit. Thank you, Scott Mission!”