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Richmond council votes to request federal funds for shelter beds

According to Richmond officials, roughly one-third of the city's shelter beds are now being occupied by asylum seekers and refugees. (CBC - image credit)
According to Richmond officials, roughly one-third of the city's shelter beds are now being occupied by asylum seekers and refugees. (CBC - image credit)

City councillors in Richmond, B.C., voted on Monday to request funding for more shelter beds for what they described as an influx in refugees seeking asylum in the city.

The motion, passed during a regular council meeting on Monday, requested that the B.C. government — which oversees municipalities — "ask the federal government to provide temporary housing for refugees and asylum seekers or alternatively pay the City of Richmond for use of city facilities."

Immigration falls under federal authority.

The city says its current total overnight shelter capacity is 30 people. According to city officials, roughly one-third of the beds are now being occupied by asylum seekers and refugees.

Last year, refugee claims doubled to nearly 8,000.

About one-third of the 632 people who stayed in the Richmond House Emergency Shelter's 30 beds last year were refugees or asylum seekers, Coun. Carol Day said. The shelter is run by the city and the Salvation Army.

"The numbers are staggering," said Day, who brought forward Monday's motion. "The reality is people are sleeping out in the cold, and it's just not acceptable.

"Canada is experiencing a rise in the number of refugees and people claiming asylum, some of whom do not have accommodations and seek shelter in local emergency shelters."

Day said Monday it's urgent the federal government come up with money soon, especially as a temporary emergency shelter set up in a changing room at a Richmond's South Arm Outdoor Pool is set to close on April 15.

She said the city will also make an appeal to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which lobbies on behalf of communities across the province.

For its part, the federal government has earmarked about $362 million for cities and provinces struggling to cope with the rising number of refugee claimants through the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP).

IHAP is a cost-sharing program that provides reimbursement to provinces and municipalities for expenses related to the provision of interim housing for asylum claimants.

"We know this is not a local issue," Richmond Coun. Chak Au told fellow councillors on Monday night. "It's a national issue."

More than 160 people are experiencing homelessness in Richmond, according to the most recent count available.

In a statement to CBC News last week, the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it "recognizes the significant role provincial and municipal governments play across the country in providing temporary shelter to asylum claimants."