Individuals staying at a homeless shelter for refugee claimants told True North that asylum seekers have been intentionally staying in the Toronto homeless shelter system — many staying at hotels and motels — for over six months so that they can access a special rent allowance only offered to individuals who’ve been in the system half a year or longer.   

“If you’re still in a shelter for six months, they give you — it’s called T-Hub [TTHAP]. They give you part of your rent and then Ontario Works adds up,” says a young African woman staying in the shelter system since last September at Sojourn House, two buildings within the shelter system designated for refugee claimants and located in downtown Toronto. “They assist you with your rent for around four years.”   

“The system changed right now, so now they never do that… because people would stay in the shelter for six months to get that benefit.”

She came to Canada alone on a student visa, claiming refugee status after arriving at Toronto Pearson.

The housing allowance program — the Toronto Transitional Housing Allowance Program (TTHAP) — is available until 2024 for current recipients at $250, $400 or $500 per month depending on the household’s circumstances.   

“A housing allowance is a temporary fixed portable housing benefit provided directly to households that meet the eligibility criteria and is intended to help cover the gap between income (defined as 30% of gross household income) and market rent,” says Toronto shelter support spokesperson Greg Seraganian in an email to True North.

“TTHAP supports households with six months or more of homelessness referred to the program through city-funded shelters and the City’s Streets to Homes program,” says Seraganian. “TTHAP is funded through time limited Federal/Provincial dollars ending March 31, 2024… Households currently in receipt of a Housing Allowance would continue to do so – until the provincial funding ends in 2024 or their individual circumstances change that may impact their eligibility.”

Many refugee claimants interviewed by True North over the past two months have been staying in hotels for close to six months, declining to take apartments they’ve looked at during that time period.

“TTHAP payments made to landlords or clients by the Ministry of Finance in 2017 was $14.8 million, and $19.2 million in 2018 (the increase in spending can be attributed  to the implementation of a new funding program),” says Seraganian.

A man (who asked not to be identified for this story) currently living at Sojourn House says he believes the shelter system is tiered, with refugee claimants getting better accommodations than the general homeless population. He stayed in general Toronto homeless shelters for the past month while waiting to get a spot at Sojourn House, which he says has far better food and amenities than the previous places where he stayed.

The City of Toronto website does not provide any details on TTHAP, and doesn’t mention the program by name.

The young, solo African refugee claimant says she is thankful she got the monthly housing allowance.

“Lucky enough, I got it.”