Niagara Falls faces ‘limitations’ in accommodating influx of asylum seekers, mayor says
It started with 87 last summer, has grown to 300, and recently built nearly 2,000 hotel rooms that were being used in Niagara Falls, Ont., to house asylum seekers sent there from Quebec. can be accommodated.
And with a total of nearly 3,000 immigrants relocated since July, the city’s community services are straining their already stretched resources to meet the needs of this sudden influx of people.
“We are. Trying to be good Canadians and do what we always do, which is always lend a hand. But there are limits to everything we can do physically,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Davidetti.
“It’s starting to impact our community in so many ways.”
As tensions rise in Quebec over tens of thousands of asylum seekers crossing the unofficial Rockham Road crossing into Canada on foot, about 5,500 migrants have been transported to Ontario border towns including Niagara Falls, Windsor and Cornwall.
With tight resources and the tourist season approaching, Niagara Falls is asking what comes next.Asylum seekers arrive at Roxham Road, which is not an official border crossing but is now staffed by RCMP officers, who process new arrivals. (Radio-Canada)
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says it began transferring immigrants arriving in Quebec to Ontario in July as Quebec’s shelter system — and hotels rented by IRCC — reached capacity.
In a statement to CBC News, IRCC said that as of February 13, 2,841 people had been evacuated to Niagara Falls.
There is no official breakdown of where all migrants are traveling from, but countries of origin include Haiti and Colombia, among others, with people speaking French, Spanish and Haitian Creole.
As of February 19, 2023, 951 hotel rooms in Niagara Falls were occupied by asylum seekers, IRCC said.
Still, it’s unclear when that number might rise again, and what impact that might have on the community and its services, especially since some hotels are in the heart of the tourist district.The tourist section of Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls includes attractions, souvenir shops, and restaurants. About 40,000 Niagara Falls residents rely on tourism to support their economic needs, according to the city’s mayor. (Marc Gollum/CBC)
Meanwhile, Davidetti has raised some concerns about the upcoming tourist season from Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.
“We have 40,000 people in Niagara Falls who depend on tourism to feed their families, pay their rent, pay their mortgage,” he said.
Although the government is paying hotels to house refugees, tourists who would normally pay for these rooms also eat at restaurants and visit attractions.
“There’s a huge, huge multiplier, that’s the difference. It’s all the mom-and-pop operators, the T-shirt guys, the fudge makers. Those are the people who aren’t going to benefit because they don’t seek asylum. Spend money on these places,” Davidti said.
“So I just tried to show off. [Fraser] Some things that are obvious to us, but maybe not so obvious to the ministry.”
Although Niagara Falls may be the nation’s top tourist destination, drawing millions of visitors year-round, it has a relatively small population of 95,000.
Residents expressed mixed views about the role their city has been forced to play, with some complaining that the government should focus its resources on its residents.
“Where are our homeless?” Bob Boyle said. “They sure won’t be staying in hotels.”
Others, however, felt that their city had a duty to help asylum seekers.While some Niagara Falls residents grumble about the influx of asylum seekers, Niagara Falls resident Eileen Halbert says finding them a place to live ‘is what needs to be done.’ (Marc Gollum/CBC)
“They need to have a place to live. I think, in the interim, that’s what needs to be done,” said Elaine Halbert. “These people are desperate. We’re living here, we’re able to shop, we have things. They don’t really have anything.”
Davidetti said he has heard from some residents who often start conversations with “I’m not complaining, but” and discuss not receiving the same support as asylum seekers.
He said it’s no surprise the government would choose Niagara Falls, with its large inventory of hotels, as a destination for asylum seekers. The government pays for the rooms, but could not disclose lease details “due to third-party confidentiality.”
But Davidetti said aid agencies are feeling the pressure, with demands for services like food banks and other forms of social assistance.
Schools are also having to set up classrooms in gymnasiums or libraries to cope with the extra students.
“The social safety net system … is not intended to hinge on a dime,” said Diana D’Elia, general manager of the YMCA of Niagara Employment and Immigrant Services.
Her organization provides language assessments, helps newcomers register their children in school, provides career assessments and access to other community resources.
“I have been in the field of social services for almost 30 years and there are ebbs and flows,” he said. “Individual demands will increase, certainly I have not seen 2000 in my time. [new arrivals] In a period of seven months.”
“I think the current situation of an additional influx … entering Niagara just puts a spotlight on a delivery system that’s already pretty fragile in terms of capacity.”
Pam Sharp, executive director of Project Share, a Niagara Falls-based organization that provides emergency food and relief services, said she faces the challenge of trying to meet the growing need with the same level of support and resources. .
“So of course it’s going to pull us in.”A photo taken by a Haitian asylum seeker with his phone in Niagara Falls, showing the Skylon Tower. (Contributed by Guirlin)
Their numbers have increased rapidly with a large increase in December.
“It’s not just the Christmas programs specifically, it’s all of our programs and services. We saw 85 percent more people accessing them,” Sharpe said.
“In my 11 years that I’ve been at Project Share, I’ve never seen numbers like this.”
“The biggest problem is finding affordable housing for asylum seekers,” he said.
“Our city has declared a housing crisis. So there’s not a large inventory of affordable housing available right now. And the waiting list for Niagara Regional Housing is years long. So that’s a big challenge right now.”
As for children, D’Elia said his organization has helped more than 1,000 children and youth enter the local school system.
According to the District School Board of Niagara, about 300 elementary students have joined their schools, which means additional staff to increase enrollment, as well as multilingual staff to help with language, translations, and overall transition. Coaches.
Sharp said her back-to-school program has provided new backpacks, new school supplies, healthy kids’ snacks and new running shoes for children starting school.
“We saw almost double the number of our back-to-school program this year compared to last year,” he said.Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Davidite said the influx of asylum seekers is taking a toll on the city’s social services. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)
Davidetti said the short-term solution to ease the pressure is certainly more funding from the government. But most importantly, he said, they need to know what the government’s overall plan is to deal with this influx of asylum seekers “so we can plan towards that.”
And he questioned whether the government, with the tourist season just months away, would be willing to pay for hotel room rents that would be “significantly higher”.
“Do they want to pay it and are they going to pay them? And do we have room for them? We can’t, because I can tell you, during the summer, on the weekends, We are overwhelmed. Too many choices.
“So that’s why I’m saying… ‘So what’s your plan?’ I haven’t heard what the plan is.”