Ottawa’s use of recreation centres to house migrants continues unabated, surpassing prescribed timelines with no end in sight.
Eleven physical distancing centres (PDCs) repurposed to address the housing crisis opened during the COVID pandemic. Only two remain: the Dempsey Community Centre in Alta Vista and Bernard Grandmaître Arena in Vanier.
In Dempsey, full-sized gyms have been repurposed as a housing stopgap for vulnerable people. An internal February memo told facility staff that both shelters would remain open until mid-August. Approximately half the 130 people seeking shelter at the facilities each night are migrants.
On August 16, Bernard Grandmaître was at full capacity with 76 men and 57 women staying there — up from 114 people using the facility in June.
The number of migrants accessing the shelters has doubled over the past half-year. They constituted 36% and 73% of shelter occupants in January and July, respectively.
While city staff administering the PDCs found alternative housing for 375 people since they opened, even more people replaced them because they have nowhere to go.
"We can't keep up," said Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr. "We take one step forward; we take two steps back."
Alta Vista's manager of homelessness programs and shelters, Kale Brown, did not provide the CBC with an updated timeline to reopen the facilities to the public.
Community members expressed their frustrations, owing to the lack of indoor facilities for youth and seniors to use for recreational purposes.
"It's frustrating, and it suggests very poor planning on the part of the city," said Chris Greenshields, interim president of the Vanier Community Association.
"We know there's a crisis, but they haven't been preparing for a crisis."
In a June community services committee meeting, staff announced they would transition residents from the PDCs and not repurpose more public facilities like Dempsey and Bernard.
However, few housing alternatives are available, with emergency shelters in Ottawa and the surrounding areas exceeding operational capacity.
"It's been challenging. I believe we're the only municipality in Ontario that uses community centres to house people," said Carr.
"It's heartbreaking that we've had such a difficult time placing people who need housing."
Brown said city officials are "exploring all options available," but with limited success as of writing.
"Though we are committed to exiting both current PDC sites as soon as possible, they are both addressing critical gaps within the shelter system [and] acting as an overflow solution," he wrote in an emailed statement to the state broadcaster.
Staff have explored over 160 listings for office space and 53 industrial spaces. They have also touched base with school boards, property development companies and municipal real estate holdings as another potential stopgap.
Rideau Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante suggested booking a "block of hotels in Kanata […] outside the downtown core."
Brown told CBC they had requested assistance from the province and the federal government on housing in Ottawa.
Since 2017, provinces and municipalities have paid $551.6 million through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, which covers "extraordinary costs of interim housing for asylum seekers."
Ontario cities like Niagara Falls and Windsor housed thousands of migrant families as early as this time last year, and increasingly so after Quebec compelled Parliament to ship migrants to other provinces.
At the end of 2022, 1,179 migrants or "asylum seekers" moved from Québec to government-funded hotels in Niagara Falls, according to an order paper question ordered by Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli.
At the time, Immigration Canada had yet to transfer any funds to mitigate Niagara’s influx of migrants. Daily food and accommodation costs totalled $135 a day per migrant.
On March 24, the feds pegged the costs to temporarily house migrants at $61.5 million over ten years. Recently they allocated $212 million for cities to house migrants and the homeless.
However, Niagara Falls and Windsor officials requested federal resources then to cope with their growing migrant population.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens capped the number of migrant hotel rooms at 500 with 850 migrant residents.
The request came amid Prime Minister Justin Trudeau striking a deal with U.S. President Joe Biden to close Roxham Road in exchange for taking an additional 15,000 migrants from Central and Southern America.
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said his community wants the feds to move the occupants again as part of a "Team Canada" approach.
As of Tuesday, the Waterloo Region has also been overburdened by migrants accessing local homeless shelters, reported CTV News.
"I think it was about mid-July [when] we noticed a bit of an influx with refugees and refugee claimants coming to The Bridges," said Wayne Paddick, executive director of the Cambridge Shelter Corporation.
"As word of mouth spreads [of] empty beds in shelters, we're starting to see a more of an influx move away from Toronto towards our region and others," he said.
"We've noticed about 20 currently staying in the shelter."
Owing to a surge of migrants entering Canada in recent years through Roxham Road, the costs incurred by taxpayers approximate $87.8 million for "temporary accommodations for unvaccinated asymptomatic asylum seekers without a suitable quarantine plan."
Between March 20, 2020, and January 31, 2023, the feds spent $136 million on temporary accommodations, meals, security, and transport for Roxham migrants.
From January 2013 to February 2023, Canada received 396,575 asylum claims — including from Roxham migrants — with one-quarter (92,445) arriving in 2022 alone. Of that, 39,171 people entered Canada illegally through unofficial entry points.
"The reality is the services are provided at the municipal level, and the money is not there to help provide those services through our partners," said Waterloo Region Chair Karen Redman.
"Whether it's healthcare dollars or shelter dollars, there's no funding attached to refugee claimants and asylum seekers."
Québec's provincial government asked Parliament in January to offload thousands more migrants to other jurisdictions after fielding complaints of strained social support and healthcare systems.
The feds have redistributed migrants from Québec to Ontario and elsewhere since June 2022 to reduce the "pressure on publicly funded services and accommodation in Québec."
Redman told CTV News that the sole responsibility to house migrants cannot be shouldered by municipalities moving forward.
"For our newcomers, having them spread out over the regions is not very helpful," added Paddick.