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Barriers persist for asylum seekers living in — and trying to leave — Windsor hotels

The unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road in Quebec, where some refugees now living in Windsor hotels crossed into Canada. (CBC - image credit)
A declining number of refugee claimants, some from Quebec’s Roxham Road border crossing, are housed in Windsor hotels, officials said, but they still face challenges in finding permanent housing. 

Mike Morency is the executive director of Matthew House, which provides temporary shelter and settlement support to refugee claimants.

“There’s been no new transfers in a while and the number in the hotels is dropping as people get housing or as they move on to other communities,” Morency said.

But while the number of refugee claimants living in local hotels is going down, many face new challenges as they start their lives in Canada.

Amy Dodge/CBC
“Housing is certainly a challenge … the housing stock availability is very, very low,” Morency said. “If you add on top of that people who don’t have money for first and last (months’ rent), people who have very little language skill, it really is a struggle for them to find housing. 

“These are people who need housing and some of the biggest struggles are the lack of credit history and the lack of English language skill.”

Hundreds of asylum seekers arrived in Canada this winter, including many to the Windsor region. Border communities in Niagara Falls and Cornwall also reported seeing an increase. Republican-led states in the United States have sent refugees northeast, while New York City has sent claimants to upstate New York near Quebec’s Roxham Road crossing.

That crossing closed this spring with an agreement between Canada and the United States, with officials saying the flow of would-be refugee claimants has slowed.

Morency said housing support workers from the city have been helpful, but still the process takes time.

Stephen Lynn, manager of social policy and planning for the City of Windsor, said there are 872 asylum claimants in local hotels, down from 1,400 earlier this winter.

Mike Evans/CBC
They are currently staying at three hotels, though that number is expected to drop to two at the end of June as more find employment and housing. 

Amid concerns this winter about hotel capacity in Windsor, Lynn said he expects that concern will abate heading into the peak of summer.

“I think with the hotels going from three to two, there will be certainly more capacity,” Lynn said. “Now that we’ve seen close to a 40 per cent decrease in the numbers that have left, I think that we have more confidence that there’ll be room for tourists that are coming to Windsor-Essex that they can find the appropriate accommodations here in Windsor-Essex.”

The city’s role with claimants is in delivering Ontario Works, while also working with the Windsor-Essex Local Immigration Partnership, the federally funded group that helps newcomers settle in Windsor.

There are a variety of supports offered at the hotels, as asylum claimants work through their claim process, obtain a work permit and employment, develop their English language skills and find housing.

“I’m happy to say that there have been examples of success stories where they have been employed by large employers in our community and then they would start to look for housing … with the help of, say, caseworkers, to try to find them housing outside of the hotels,” Lynn said.

But there are other challenges, too, Morency said: Claimants who arrive early may not have received the right advice about how to complete their refugee claim paperwork.

“For example, there’s part of their claim that’s called the basis of claim, which is really … them telling their story. Many lawyers who aren’t experts in refugee claimant work don’t know the importance of that, so they’ll tell people, ‘Oh, just tell them your journey from your home country to here.’

“That’s like 10 per cent of the basis of claim. The most important part of the basis of the claim is, why are you leaving your home country? What happened there, and and how do you document your your need for protection?'”

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