Taking the refuge out of refugee
An ongoing exploratory data analysis of the transient homeless population in and out of Toronto's shelter system, and the intersection of homelessness and the current migrant crisis. All updates will be posted here.
According to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, homelessness describes the situation of an individual, family, or community without safe, stable, permanent accommodation. Homelessness can encompass a large range of housing and shelter situations, including those on one extreme end living completely without any shelter, to other individuals who live with insecure housing. Treating homelessness is challenging, with evidence indicating that traditional emergency services such as homeless shelters manage the existing problem, but do not eradicate homelessness or encourage a successful recovery from poor health outcomes due to homelessness. In addition, many major Canadian cities such as Toronto are experiencing a housing crisis where housing has become increasingly unaffordable, and existing shelter services are often in short supply for the homeless population.
My aim is to explore how occupancy trends change over time in the Toronto shelter system for 2017, and whether shelters are able to meet the demand.
June 30, 2018
Using R, ggplot2, and Daily Shelter Occupancy data from 2017, I conducted an exploratory analysis of general homelessness occupancy trends within the Toronto shelter system using simple time-series data visualization. Before proceeding into segmenting the data more specifically, I wanted to see what the general trend was. I found that overall, occupancy rates have been increasing steadily over 2017, and capacity has been struggling to keep up with the increasing occupancy. The occupancy increase has not been evenly distributed across sectors - nor has it been evenly distributed across shelters.
Interestingly, I also found evidence to suggest that the increase in the transient homeless population may likely be attributed to a growing homeless or displaced refugee population.
Costi Immigrant Reception Centre
The COSTI Immigrant Reception Centre in Toronto provides services specifically for refugees and refugee claimants that have been referred to the centre by other organizations. These services include employment support and housing placements. On March 24, there was a sudden, dramatic increase in shelter beds, with the capacity jumping from 16 beds to over 100.
On January 28, PM Justin Trudeau made a now infamous tweet that has been arguably linked with encouraging a new influx of migrants displaced by recent changes in US immigration policy. Although Trudeau's tweet was a direct response to Executive Order 13769, a travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries implemented by the Trump administration, many believe that the tweet has been interpreted as an open welcome for all to Canada.
Data collected by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada indicate a massive increase in asylum claims made during 2017 compared to the year prior. The first peak of claims occurred after the January 28 tweet. Although the migrant crisis is recent and further investigation is needed, it is likely that the new surge of migrants may be causing significant stress on ill-equipped shelter systems across major cities such as Toronto.
The massive peak of claims in 2017 is driven by a surge in Haitians crossing the border from the USA. From the beginning of 2017, word began circulating that Trump would be ending the Temporary Protection Status granted to Haitians seeking refuge from the 2010 earthquake. In November 2017, Trump announced officially he would not be renewing their status.
Most asylum seekers crossing the border from the US have entered Canada through Quebec, with many moving towards Ontario. Reports indicate that these asylum seekers have been flooding shelter systems or temporary shelter accommodations provided by municipal governments.
Data from the City of Toronto and IRCC suggest that the growing transient homeless population likely consists of refugees, refugee claimants or asylum seekers. There is possibly a link between this growth and the unprecedented surge of migrants fleeing a hostile US to a more humane, welcoming country. Regardless of the source, the migrant crisis is placing a burden on welfare systems in Canada that are not prepared for the sudden influx of migrants.
July 24, 2018
As of July 24, the City of Toronto has released an update to the Daily Shelter Occupancy data from 2017 to include daily data from 2018. The new data update records information for occupancy and capacity across the same 56 shelters up to July 23, 2018. I've conducted a simple visualization of how the trends have continued into 2018 using the updated data.
The increase in transient sheltered homeless occupancy continued to grow in 2018, until recently. The rate now seems to be declining over the summer. However, looking specifically at shelters within the family sector (given that the increase in occupancy is most dramatic here), another shelter is experiencing a surge in occupancy in tandem with the COSTI Immigrant Reception Centre.
The Sojourn House is another shelter in Toronto that provides services specifically for refugees. While the occupancy might be dropping overall, the rate is still climbing for two refugee specific shelters. This trend may indicate that the impact of the migrant crisis on the Toronto shelter system is growing in magnitude.