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Winnipeg shelters feeling impact from increase in asylum seekers

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A growing number of asylum seekers is putting pressure on Winnipeg’s already strained shelter system.

The Salvation Army Winnipeg Centre of Hope is among the organizations seeing an increase.

“On a daily basis, we have around 120 refugee claimants that are staying in the building,” said executive director Mark Stewart. “That’s men, women and children staying within our family shelter.”

While they haven’t turned anyone away yet, Stewart said the influx is raising concerns about capacity and the ability to keep up with demand.

“We’re doing our best,” he said.

Last fall, the organization added 60 beds to help accommodate more refugees.

“We thought that 60 would be enough,” Stewart said. “But then again, today, we're sitting at 120, which puts our capacity in our building of just over 420 people a day."

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, along with the Canada Border Services Agency, processed 185 asylum claimants in Manitoba in January 2024, which is five times higher than the number processed at the same time last year.

“They are people who are coming here, the refugee status is still not determined, and they have no other place to go, they have nowhere to go," said Reuben Garang, executive director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg.

With nowhere to go, advocates said people are turning to already overwhelmed spaces.

"There are people that are on the streets that need those shelters,” Garang said. “And so having newcomers come in and go into the shelters is already a stretch of resources."

Some of the strained resources include education and employment services, offered by organizations such as the Needs Centre.

"We've seen like a huge increase of refugee claimants registering for our services, which is great, but we just need to make sure that we have the appropriate, staffing and skills to be able to meet their unique needs," said Ryan Croy with the centre.

Unique needs and unique circumstances can make settling more difficult for refugees and support staff.

"It’s always tricky for the agencies, because they are navigating like really difficult criteria in terms of what they're eligible for," said Emily Halldorson with the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations.

And while they’re waiting for documentation, asylum seekers are also waiting for affordable housing.

"I think that building more emergency shelter is not helping the structural issues that exist," Stewart said.

Housing Minister Bernadette Smith said the province is working to improve the level of affordable housing for asylum seekers.

"We’ve been working with municipalities, as well as our federal partners to address some of our housing needs here in our province," she said.

CTV News Winnipeg has reached out to the federal government for comment, and is awaiting a response.

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