‘My heart sunk’: Brampton mayor speaks out after man dies in tent outside former Peel shelter

Peel region officials call on the federal government for assistance after asylum seeker was found down sleeping outside shelter.

There is a growing wave of concern over the housing crisis in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in the wake of an asylum seeker’s death as a result of being forced to sleep at an encampment outside of a former shelter in Mississauga.

Peel Regional Police responded to reports of a sudden death at an encampment outside of the shelter on Dundas Street East near Dixie Road on Wednesday morning. Investigators say a man in his 40s was found inside one of the tents without vital signs.

Police said there is no evidence to indicate that the death was criminal, with investigators adding that a heating source in the tent could have caused the man’s death.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown says one fatality is too many and is calling on government levels to act and support municipalities.

“We’ve been warning senior levels of government since July that this was going to happen, and right now, we have anywhere from 46 to 100 asylum claimants sleeping outside every night,” Brown said at a press conference.

“It is beyond comprehension that we have allowed this to happen. When I got the news of a fatality yesterday, my heart broke. It sunk.”

Brown says governments need to “stop making speeches” and take action

Officials in Peel Region say current shelter capacity is at 300 per cent, and 68 per cent of those requiring space are asylum seekers from various African countries. Prior to this year, that number was closer to five per cent.

“Is this acceptable? I don’t think so,” said Gwyn Chapman, the City of Brampton’s senior advisor for economic empowerment and anti-black racism. “I am urging everyone with a heart to come together, to work together, to continue to build this country that is known for embracing all people.”

Today, outside the shelter, CityNews cameras captured dozens of tents set up close together; some people were seen sleeping on the grass. 

“This [is happening] in a country as prosperous as Canada, in a region as prosperous as the GTA and Peel Region,” Brown added.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown speaks at a press conference on Thursday, November 16, 2023. Photo: CityNews.

There have been calls over the last few months for more to be done to aid shelter refugees after dozens were spotted stranded outside of a shelter in Toronto waiting to be housed.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow has put a spotlight on the issue since taking office in July, repeatedly pressing the federal government for more help to support the roughly 3,500 refugees currently in the shelter system.

Brown: This is a humanitarian disaster

In May, the City of Toronto was investigated after it denied claimants space in local shelters that were not explicitly designated for refugees or asylum seekers.

Instead, officials said staff would refer them to federal programs because Toronto had not been provided with the funding it needed to deal with unprecedented shelter demand. 

On Thursday, Brown called this a humanitarian disaster and urged the federal government to provide more funds and create a welcome centre at the airport to prevent another tragic situation, especially as the cold winter months approach.

“What petrifies me is the temperatures are about to get colder,” Brown continued. “There will be more fatalities, and that blood is on our hands if we don’t step up and help.”

Investigators say a post-mortem is being conducted to determine the exact cause of the man’s death.

“That blood is on our hands if we don’t step up and help,” Brown said. “Knowing that municipalities are legally not allowed to run a deficit, we’re calling on our partners and other levels of government, particularly the federal government, to help.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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