Homeless and unemployed may have to wait as Ontario announces more aid to immigrants

The hits keep coming for homeless and unemployed people in Ontario, desperate to find a place to live or work.

With about 12,000 people in Ontario homeless each night and hundreds of thousands of the province’s citizens looking for work, Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Laura Albanese, announced the province will invest $121 million to help new immigrants and their families adjust to their new lives in Ontario.  She didn’t say a word about finding some more money to support the homeless and unemployed Canadians living in her province.

Albanese made the announcement on Thursday, March 15 at Mississauga’s Centre for Education and Training. Her news release used 2016 figures which indicated Ontario received 110,014 immigrants, which was 37.1 per cent of all immigrants to Canada. Albanese said the funding would support 236 projects that meet the diverse needs of newcomers.

“Immigrants who choose Ontario as their new home are critically important for our future growth and prosperity,” said Albanese in a press release.

The story in The Brampton Guardian says the programs will provide settlement and integration support, referrals to a range of community services and targeted programing for newcomer youth such as skills development and mentoring. There will also be bridge training for internationally-trained immigrants to help them get licensed in their occupation or trade and find work in their field. Language training will be enhanced to improve the delivery of English and French as a second language.

Over the next few years the number of newcomers to Canada is expected to increase. The federal government has set overall national landings targets of 310,000 immigrants for 2018, 330,000 for 2019 and 340,000 for 2020.

“Ontario is continuing to support refugees and vulnerable newcomers with a new investment to help them settle and get the support they need, to successfully integrate into their new lives in Ontario,” a news release from the minister dated way back on June 20, 2017 reads.

Well, isn’t it nice that Ontario is being so kind to help its ballooning refugee population while 12,000 of its own people are homeless and looking for some support of their own. Ontario’s unemployment rate has fallen to one of its lowest levels in years but there were still 437,000 people looking for work in the province. But it’s the new immigrants who will get lots of support to help them find jobs.

Jobs are something many desperate Ontario people can only dream about finding. Finding homes is another problem. And while the province is pulling out all the stops to welcome in over 110,000 immigrants and find homes for them all, Ontario is struggling with a homeless problem of its own.

It was only last September when the alarm bells were sounding at Ontario’s homeless shelters. The in a CBC story said it all Sept. 25: “Homeless shelter demand rising in Ontario as facilities close. Shelters operating at 90 per cent capacity as 12,000 Ontarians homeless each night.”

Maybe the provincial government doesn’t care about headlines. Maybe it doesn’t care about Ontario’s homeless population.

“Several shelters in Ottawa and Toronto said they are so full they’ve been filling the hallways with sleeping mats,” the CBC story from writer Elise von Scheel reads. “The province doesn’t keep a tally of shelter closures in Ontario, as they don’t manage them directly. Funding from the ministries trickles down through municipalities and charities into the facilities. The Ontario government didn’t have a technical definition of homelessness until 2015.”

Maybe, the technical definition of homeless, now has a prerequisite – you have to be in possession of an Ontario birth certificate.

“There are a lot of people in crisis and needing supports and often shelters are their first point of contact,” said Deirdre Freiheit, executive director of Shepherds of Good Hope, in the CBC story “We don’t want people to be staying long term in shelters. We try to identify housing immediately.”

But how can any of the Toronto area’s homeless shelters find homes for those Canadians looking, when the provincial and federal governments are bringing in over 100,000 immigrants each year and finding them all a place to live?

Who should come first – the Canadian lying in the street or the immigrant fleeing from his country to take up residence in Ontario?

It’s a difficult question, but one that is sure to be asked as more and more immigrants flood into the Toronto area and other major Canadian cities.

The CBC story indicated over 170,000 households are on the waiting list for affordable housing in Ontario and the average wait time is four years, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. So how can the Ontario government even consider adding more financial support for its immigrant population when it can’t take care of its own people?

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson  is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining  Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.

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