Two “Refugee Hotels” in Toronto were supposed to be temporary shelters, but instead, they’re now closed to the public and exclusively used by asylum claimants and homeless
The Toronto Plaza Hotel in North York is still housing upwards of 500 refugee claimants and homeless people, despite reports from September 2018 stating the municipal and federal governments were planning to end the stays of homeless and asylum seekers at hotels last year.
In addition, True North has confirmed North York’s Radisson Hotel Toronto East is now closed to customers due to “renovations,” according to an employee at the front desk. The hotel is still housing refugee claimants. (No reservation times are currently available for the hotel on travel websites Expedia.ca and Booking.com.)
This hotel made headlines last year and was dubbed the “refugee hotel” by regular guests; many leaving negative reviews online because of the hundreds of asylum seekers living there over the past two years, which guests were unaware of when booking.
News reports from November 2018 stated that over 570 refugee claimants were living at that Radisson location, taking up 146 out of the 240 rooms available.
City of Toronto officials did not immediately respond to direct questions about the current situation of the two hotels.
They did, however, provide general information from the City of Toronto website. It’s unclear how many asylum seekers are staying at the Radisson in North York, how long the City plans to house those without shelter in these two hotels, or how much it’s costing the City to pay for all of the rooms.
City officials estimate the added cost over the past two years was $64.5 million, due to the spike in asylum seekers coming to Toronto.
The Toronto Plaza Hotel in North York, a 199-room hotel near the connection of Highways 400 and 401, still had full occupancy of asylum seekers and homeless as of Thursday night. The CBC reported in November that the City of Toronto had submitted an offer to buy the rundown Plaza (35 rooms were closed for mould problems), to help house the city’s homeless and migrant populations.
Hours after the CBC report was released, however, the City backed out of being a prospective buyer. The City is paying a discounted rate of around $50 per room per night, as well as food costs, according to the CBC report.
Occupants of the Plaza Hotel have their rooms cleaned regularly by hotel cleaning staff, individuals staying at the hotel told True North.
Several of people outside the Plaza Hotel said the majority of the occupants are refugee claimants, most coming from Nigeria. There are also noticeable populations of Mexican and Middle Eastern asylum seekers at the hotel.
“Though we have seen recent monthly irregular migration numbers at their lowest since 2017, we acknowledge and appreciate the significant role that officials across Toronto have played in providing temporary shelter to asylum claimants,” says Minister of Border Security Bill Blair’s spokesperson Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux.
Although Ottawa-based news outlet Blacklock’s Reporter reported the Department of Immigration said this week the total number of migrants that were intercepted by RCMP last year dropped from 20,593 in 2017 to 19,419 last year, the total number of people entering Canada to claim asylum still rose in 2018.
In 2017, 50,390 entered Canada illegally and legally to file refugee claims.That number jumped to 55,695 in 2018, according to the federal government’s website.
“While the federal government is no longer paying for hotel rooms, Minister Blair continues to engage with Mayor Tory and Minister MacLeod to discuss immediate housing pressures, all while ensuring the safety and security of our borders,” continued Cadieux.
Blair’s office declined to say whether the federal government will give additional funding on top of the $50 million initially promised by the Trudeau government to help Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario to offset costs associated with the influx of illegal border-crossers.
The provinces and major cities’ governments are claiming the costs they’ve incurred from the influx are much higher, at several hundred million dollars to date.
Inside the Plaza Hotel, which is mainly occupied by young families, kids are playing soccer in a foyer and other games with friends, while mothers tend to babies in strollers and swaddles. African music plays from one of the conference rooms adjoining the hallway.
“The workers are really good here. They’re really nice and kind,” says one homeless woman who moved from Israel to Canada several years back. She has been living at the Plaza Hotel with her niece and two kids for the past two weeks, and is currently on the Ontario Disability Support Program.
“I have my niece with me here. She’s young, eighteen,” says the the woman, describing an unwanted encounter between her niece and one of the migrant men staying at the hotel.
“So he seen her with me and he jumped on my car [and said], ‘I want to talk to you, what’s the name of your friend? I want to talk to her, can you give me her number?’”
“Another guy, from Nigeria, he followed me from here [in front of the building], up to my [hotel room] door. He want to talk to me and I said, ‘No.’ ‘Give me your phone number,’ [he said.] I said, ‘No. I’m saying no.’ And I just walked away.”
“I was scared of him but I didn’t show him fear. As long as you keep away from people, you have no problems. I’m very careful. Most of the guys are nice.”
She also says the City of Toronto is pushing people to find a place, but that people are having trouble finding affordable, safe housing.
“People cannot live in a place like this,” she said about migrants looking for prospective apartments in Toronto. “Especially when you are new, and you don’t know people, and it’s a very criminal neighbourhood and the building is scary and smelly,” she said.
A man outside of the hotel said he, his wife and four children travelled from Afghanistan to America and then crossed the border into Canada where they were arrested and applied for refugee status.
“I love Canada,” he said in an interview in front of the hotel. “My situation was not good in Afghanistan… I worried about my children.”
A 25-year-old woman from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, living at the Plaza Hotel since September, described the hardships she has faced so far in Canada.
After coming to Canada because her father already lives here, she is now homeless and unable to find work. Her family kicked her out of the house because she does not get along with her stepmother.
When asked if she illegally crossed into Canada from the American border, she gave an unusual response.
“I wish I did,” she said without skipping a beat. She seemed to think she would have received better treatment had she come into Canada illegally.
An early version of this article placed Radisson hotel in Scarborough. The article has been updated to place the hotel in North York.