Welfare ID rules will create wave of homeless immigrants

Toronto – Members of community organizations and front-line social service providers are calling on the City of Toronto to reverse a move which could force hundreds if not thousands of low-income immigrants onto the streets.

In September, Toronto Employment and Social Services (the city agency which administers the Ontario Works program) said it would no longer accept Verification of Status documents as identification for immigrant welfare applicants, making social assistance inaccessible to residents who have no other identity documents. At a recent press conference, members of organizations including Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and No One Is Illegal – Toronto, will demand that the City reverse its decision.

 Several homeless Toronto residents died on the streets in the winter months of 2014/2015. This year, the City is also closing down shelter beds and much-needed services for the homeless. The decision to stop accepting Verification of Status documents means that low-income immigrants will face delays in receiving social assistance, if they receive it at all. Rents will go unpaid, families will go unfed, and pressure will be placed on Toronto’s already-strained shelter and food bank systems.

Lawyer Karin Baqi speaks to Toronto Council
Lawyer Karin Baqi speaks to Toronto Council

“Before September, we know that Ontario Works caseworkers were regularly accepting Verification of Status documents as a form of ID” says Gaetan Heroux, an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty with 15 years’ experience helping the homeless replace their documentation. “Now we’re hearing about people, lots of people, being turned away because they don’t have their original immigration documents, which are expensive, much more complicated to get, and can take months to access. This directive is a crisis in the making and will leave people destitute and homeless.” Karin Baqi, a lawyer with the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, notes that “This move is in direct violation of the City’s own Access Without Fear policy, which says that services are available to all Toronto residents, regardless of immigration status or documentation.”

The Verification of Status document is issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and is the cheapest, fastest and easiest document for immigrants to obtain. Prior to September 2015, it was general practice for Ontario Works caseworkers to accept Verification of Status documents and certified copies of Record of Landing as identification for residents applying for assistance.  A directive issued on September 1, 2015, by Toronto Employment and Social Services instructed Ontario Works caseworkers to stop accepting Verification of Status documents. The City has not developed a plan to assist low-income immigrants in obtaining the requested documentation. The organizations are demanding that the City return to its general practice of accepting Verification of Status as an identity document, as it did prior to the September 1 directive, to enable immigrants to receive social assistance.