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An asylum seeker died after waiting hours for a shelter space. Advocates are demanding action

Delphina Ngigi, 46, of Kenya, pictured here, died in hospital on Sunday after she was unable to secure space in a Mississauga shelter on Saturday. She was a mother of four children, all of whom are still in Kenya. This photo was supplied by Pastor Eddie Jjumba of the Milliken Wesleyan Methodist Church in Markham. (Supplied by Pastor Eddie Jjumba - image credit)

An asylum seeker who waited hours in the cold to be allowed inside a Mississauga shelter died over the weekend, say advocates demanding immediate action to address growing pressure on the region's already overcrowded shelter system.

Kizito Musabimana, executive director of the Rwandan Canadian Healing Centre, identified the asylum seeker as Delphina Ngigi, 46, of Kenya. She had four children, all of whom are still in Kenya. Her family has been notified of her death.

"People are coming to seek refuge and what we are doing is leaving them on the street, in this case, leaving them outside for hours," Musabimana said.

Musabimana said Ngigi arrived at the shelter at 1767 Dundas St. E. at about 1 p.m. on Saturday and was forced to wait outside in the cold for hours, before she was let into the lobby at about 8 p.m.

Ngigi spent the night there and collapsed when she was taking a shower in the shelter on Sunday, he said. She was taken to hospital shortly afterwards, was still awake and conscious at 2 p.m., but died there just after 4:30 p.m. Her cause of death has not been released.

The centre is trying to raise money to send her body back to Kenya to be buried, he added.

A spokesperson for Peel Region confirmed to CBC News that an asylum seeker arrived at the shelter over the Family Day weekend only to find there was no space, and died in hospital after spending the night on the floor of the shelter's lobby.

'When is this going to be a priority?'

In a news release, leaders of African Canadian groups said there is an urgent need for governments to address the situation, noting it has claimed the lives of two African migrants already. Last fall, another asylum seeker, a Nigerian man, died outside of the same shelter.

"It is unfortunate that this is the second time that I'm standing here for exactly the same reason," said Pastor Eddie Jjumba, one of several members of those groups who spoke at a news conference in Mississauga on Friday, pleading for government action. Jjumba is a pastor at the Milliken Wesleyan Methodist Church in Markham.

"When is this going to be a priority?" he asked the crowd.

Pastor Eddie Jjumba, along with other leaders from African Canadian groups, spoke at a news conference in Mississauga Friday. He said sheltering asylum seekers is a national issue, but the response has been lacking.
Pastor Eddie Jjumba, along with other leaders from African Canadian groups, spoke at a news conference in Mississauga Friday. He said sheltering asylum seekers is a national issue, but the response has been lacking.

Pastor Eddie Jjumba, along with other leaders from African Canadian groups, spoke at a news conference in Mississauga on Friday. He said sheltering asylum seekers is a national issue, but the response has been lacking. (CBC)

"This is not just an issue of Mississauga. This is not just an issue of York Region or Toronto. This is a national issue and it should be responded to as such."

Alvin Nicholson, of Canadian Black Clergy and Allies, appealed to all Canadians to help people seeking shelter.

"Let us present to the world the Canada we want the world to see," he said. "No one leaves their country, seeking refuge, to die."

Local councillor calls for more federal funding

Ngigi's death is prompting a local councillor to call on the federal government to provide $7 million in promised funding for a welcome centre for refugees and asylum seekers near Toronto's Pearson International Airport as well as additional funding to help Peel Region settle asylum seekers. Specifically, Peel Region wants $84 million to provide shelter to asylum seekers and another $9 million to cover the costs of settling Ukrainian refugees.

Mississauga ward 7 Coun. Dipika Damerla is pictured at city hall.
Mississauga ward 7 Coun. Dipika Damerla is pictured at city hall.

Mississauga councillor Dipika Damerla, who represents Ward 7, said the shelter is not to blame for the death but the death is a sign that the temporary homeless shelter system in Peel Region is overburdened. (Sara Jabakhanji/CBC)

The federal government has promised funding for the welcome centre, but Mississauga councillor Dipika Damerla, who represents Ward 7, says the money for that hasn't begun flowing.

Damerla said the shelter is not to blame for the death. Instead, the death is a sign that the temporary shelter system in Peel Region is overburdened, she said.

The region is currently providing shelter for about 1,200 asylum seekers.

"This just shines a spotlight on the enormous pressure our shelter systems are under," Damerla said on Thursday, adding the woman received timely medical assistance at the shelter and hospital.

"We are sometimes turning away asylum seekers and I think that's a disgrace. The situation has gotten worse," she added.  "And it doesn't have to be this way. If the federal government would just come to the table and start funding us properly, we wouldn't be in this situation."

Mississauga shelter
Mississauga shelter

A view of the shelter at 1767 Dundas St. E. (CBC)

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said Friday he's troubled by the lack of progress since another asylum seeker died in Peel Region in the fall.

"In November, you know, I was losing my mind over the fact that we were at 300 per cent capacity," he said. "We're at 400 per cent capacity now. It's getting worse, despite the promises of new funding."

"The shelter system is so much over capacity that we're going to see more fatalities," he said, calling this week's death "heartbreaking" and "avoidable."

Region needs to do more, advocate says

But local advocates say the region needs to do more than lobby for more funding.

"We want answers and the answers cannot be, 'Oh, we need to get the money from the federal government so we can do this work,'" Musabimana said.

"We need to spend and then go to the federal government to be reimbursed if that's what needs to be done."

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC News the federal government has provided $10 million to Peel Region as an instalment toward its final 2023 Interim Housing Assistance Program claim. 

"The federal government has also committed to supporting to open a new reception centre that will provide temporary shelter and more streamlined services and supports to asylum claimants. On January 31, 2024, Minister (Marc) Miller announced an additional $362.4 million in funding for the Interim Housing Assistance Program (IHAP). This is in addition to the $212 million that was announced in the summer of 2023," the statement said.

"We are deeply saddened to hear news about the death of an individual at a shelter in Mississauga. Our hearts go out to the family."