With Toronto’s Shelter System Deemed More Dangerous than the Streets, Where Will Homeless War-Fleeing Refugees Go?

refugees fleeing Ukraine

The invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces has had devastating consequences. According to sources from BBC World News, the war has displaced an estimated 6.5 million Ukrainians left to wander the ruins of their homeland without a stable place to live. An additional four million-plus civilians are believed to have fled the country. This figure comes directly from the United Nation’s database, reflecting research provided by the International Organization for Migration.

Of the 4 million civilians who reportedly left Ukraine, more than half have migrated to Poland, currently hosting approximately 2,336,799 refugees. The rest of the devastated populace has been dispersed amongst many neighboring nations. One of those nations is Canada.

Canada Has Reportedly Amended their Immigration Policy to Accommodate Ukrainian Refugees for Three Years

The need for more neighboring nations to take in homeless refugees is evident even this early in the war. In what appears to be a warm welcome, Canada has gone out of its way to amend immigration policies and accommodate the refugees of this region by extending the length of time they can stay from two years to three.

This move has been met with equal parts approval and criticism as similar arrangements were not extended to refugees fleeing other war-torn countries such as the Middle East. Yet this shift in policy appears to be welcome in a friendlier direction.

However, like most political maneuvers, this is trickier than it looks. Geographical bias aside, there remains another glaring issue with the promise of Canada’s warm welcome to the citizens of Ukraine.

Canada Does Not Have a Safe Place for Refugees to Reside

While the Great White North publicly dons the face of sustainability and paints a portrait of its landscape as a haven for fleeing refugees, the harsh truth is that Canada is experiencing a homeless crisis.

According to Homeless Hub, a critical shortage of affordable housing units and crippling poverty are the two most prominent causes of the crisis.

Unlike in other industrialized societies, the shortage of affordable homes here is not so simple to solve. While inflated market and rental prices certainly play a part, Bloomberg reports that Canada’s housing shortage finds many of its roots right in the dirt.

That’s right. When it comes to housing, Canada isn’t just out of options. It’s also out of the land.

For sure, Canada welcomes a significant share of refugees beyond its borders. However, what nobody’s mentioning is that according to 2020 data, those refugees make up about 40% of Toronto’s homeless shelter residents. Worse yet, Toronto homeless shelters feature some of the most abhorrent conditions globally.

Homeless Shelters in Toronto are a Far Cry from Being Safe Havens

Imagine fleeing your war-torn homeland in shambles. You board a bus to a strange new land leaving behind memories, prized possessions, and maybe even loved ones. Narrowly escaping with your life, you cling to your kids and your beloved pet. You arrive at the gates of a “welcoming” new country only to be ushered into an uncaring homeless shelter system that presents a different kind of war.

This exact scenario has already happened to nearly 3,000 refugees. With war on the horizon in every corner of the world, nobody’s immune to the possibility.

At this point, you’re thinking you might be grateful for just having a roof over your head. But you would soon learn Toronto homeless shelters are some of the least safe spaces in the world. 132 people died there last year alone. Notorious for robberies, violence, and rapes, residents have described living there as akin to being “a rat in a cage.”

Speaking of cages, there’s only one pet-friendly long-term shelter in all of Toronto. What happens to your kitten/puppy/chameleon if you can’t manage to secure a space there? Would you carry your beloved pet’s cage for thousands of miles only to abandon it on an unfamiliar street?

What about your child’s hand? 

Reports show that homeless fathers struggle to locate shelters that simultaneously accept dads and their children, leading to the looming prospect of family separation and psychological turmoil.

Picture screaming children being ripped from the loving arms of their parents by personnel in a war setting. You imagine the background as the country being bombed, not the country this family fled to for safety. Yet, in many cases, the stark reality of Canadian refugeeism is cycling in and out of the homeless shelter system like many other discarded members of our disjointed society.

Urge Your Legislators to Make Sanctuary Safe Again

If we’re going to offer people a safe space to run to escape the horrors of war, shouldn’t that space be peaceful and not just a different kind of warzone? Canada’s homeless shelters are considered by many to be even more dangerous than attempting to survive on city streets.

Urge your legislators to clean up their act. Tell them to make housing a human right for all citizens Canadian and otherwise.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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