How Do We Prevent Refugees from Ending up in Shelter?

Abe Oudshoorn, Western University

In this bi-weekly blog series, I explore recent research on homelessness, and what it means for the provision of services to prevent or end homelessness. Read the first blog here

Today’s post is a bit different from my usual review of the works of others as I instead share insights on our presentation at the upcoming CAEH conference in Edmonton.

Since 2016, emergency shelters across Canada have noted a significant increase in the number of refugees accessing their services. This causes some significant tensions as emergency shelters are municipally funded and administered whereas refugees fall under shared federal and provincial jurisdiction. ‘Welcome centres’, or transitional housing for refugees, exist in most mid to large urban areas, but clearly these are not sufficiently serving the needs of refugees.

This increase in emergency shelter utilization by refugees is happening at the exact time when across Canada we are focused on reducing shelter use by ending and preventing homelessness.

Therefore, we set about trying to better understand pathways of refugees into emergency shelter. Our team consisted of myselfSarah BenbowVicki EssesLinda Baker, Bridget Annor, and Isaac Coplan. We interviewed 15 refugee participants from shelters in London and Toronto.

What did we learn?

  1. Refugees entering emergency shelter are almost exclusively refugee claimants. These individuals need to be distinguished from Government Assisted Refugees (GARs), such as the Syrian families, who are mostly remaining housed.
  2. Refugee Claimants (RCs) arrive in Canada often with little to no resources, limited English competency, and no pre-arranged housing.
  3. Processing claims is taking as long as two years currently, during which time RCs may access social assistance but usually need support in doing so.
  4. RCs who access shelter speak to receiving diverse supports to access social assistance, navigating language barriers, get children into school, apply for housing, and manage health needs.

What we concluded:

While shelter diversion is an evidence-based model for those already residing in Canada, this may not be the most viable form of prevention (ie. primary prevention) for refugees. Rather, rapid access to emergency shelter with wrap-around supports is the stepping stone into future housing stability. Therefore, RCs should be encouraged to access shelter if homeless and the focus should be secondary prevention, rapid re-housing.


Source: Homeless Hub