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GORDON: Homeless Toronto men not offered hotel rooms like illegal border crossers

Refugee claimants are staying in four hotels and an undisclosed number of motels for upwards of six months

Three men staying at a 24-hour homeless shelter in downtown Toronto told True North they were not offered hotel or motel rooms to live in like the many refugee claimants who illegally entered Canada have been provided by the City.

“There were [some] Nigerians. And they got hooked up with housing pretty quickly,” says a 28-year-old man from Whitby who has been in the shelter system for the last 12 months. The past couple months he has been staying at Fred Victor, a temporary homeless shelter located at 545 Lake Shore Blvd West and known for the majority of its occupants being drug addicts.

“The showers are dirty, the washrooms are dirty. There are needles everywhere,” says the 28-year-old man.

He also said if he had a few months to live in a hotel room he believes he would be able to get his life together, but is finding it difficult living surrounded by drug addicts (he is not one himself).

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True North has previously reported that refugee claimants are staying in four hotels and an undisclosed number of motels for upwards of six months at a time.

The amenities at some of these hotels include WiFi, personal TVs, cleaning services, food allowance, etc, far better than the one TV and telephone, as well as extremely slow WiFi, available to those staying at Fred Victor.  

“Every other night there’s a fight going on at three in the morning or there’s an OD or something like that. … A guy died here the other night, people die here. It’s traumatic, for sure,” says the young man from Whitby.

In contrast, a Syrian man illegally entering Canada recently and staying at hotel in downtown Toronto the past months said it was “five star” accommodations compared to living in America the past four years.

The Whitby man says the social workers in charge of helping them find permanent housing “aren’t as engaged” in actively finding places for homeless people at certain facilities compared to others.   

Last week, City of Toronto chief communications officer Brad Ross told True North there is no preferential treatment given to certain homeless people within the system.

“Hotel, respite or shelter all provide different services — they are not positioned along a continuum from ‘better’ to ‘worse’. The City works with each individual client to identify and respond to their specific needs — including the right facility, e.g. hotels work much better for families who can all live together on the same room, while respite tend to accommodate people with more dynamic schedules, as the curfew requirements are unique to that program.”       

A Canadian man originally from Tanzania living in the shelter system the last five months and staying at Fred Victor also says the majority of his fellow occupants are drug addicts openly using inside the facility despite the rules forbidding it.

“Damn right, damn right,” he says laughingly when asked if he would rather live in hotel room. “Have you ever been here at all? It’s just an open area [with beds].”

“I think the [City’s] rationale is that somebody who is new doesn’t know where to go, doesn’t have any way to know anything… They tend to get better facilities than Canadians.”  

With the influx of thousands of asylum seekers into the Toronto shelter system over the past two years, the city has spent tens of millions of dollars in additional funding to add thousands of additional beds.

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However, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration general manager Paul Raftis still warned City officials the shelter system is in “immediate danger of being overwhelmed.”

A 26-year-old man, addicted to crystal meth and fentanyl, was turned away from Fred Victor on Saturday night.

“Oh yeah, sometimes I’m out in the cold… All night man.”

On the same street as Fred Victor, but on the east end a couple blocks away from the Distillery District, up to 100 homeless people are staying in one of three tented structures costing $2.5 million each.

Two of the prefabricated structures opened at the end of January, including the one next to the Gardiner which is an empty lot of land closed off to the public by a locked gate and barbed-wire fencing.

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