Etobicoke church opens doors to provide shelter to asylum seekers

Black-led church, which is calling for volunteers, is 3rd in Toronto to step up

Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles 1
A view of a room at Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles in Etobicoke. The church is providing temporary shelter for asylum seekers. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Another Toronto church has stepped up to provide temporary emergency shelter to asylum seekers as the city continues to move people into indoor spaces.

Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles in Etobicoke now has 56 people staying on its premises, two of whom are pregnant women, according to Nadine Miller, a director at the church.

The church is providing beds, bedding and food. A gym located in the same plaza as the church is allowing asylum seekers to shower there and the church’s landlord is providing extra space in the plaza for beds.

Church leaders are calling for volunteers to help with health care and administrative tasks. 

“We just need help,” Miller told CBC Toronto on Thursday.

“Really, we need volunteers. Maybe you can write a letter for us. Maybe you can [help with] different support systems. Maybe you’re a nurse and you can pass by.”

Nadine Miller
Nadine Miller, a director at Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles, says the church is doing its part to help asylum seekers. ‘We are are hoping to work with anyone who can really move us to a place where we can really help them,’ she says. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

The Black-led church is the third in Toronto, after Dominion Church International and Revivaltime Tabernacle in North York, to provide temporary shelter to asylum seekers  — mainly from African countries — who were denied access to the city’s overwhelmed shelter system.

Many asylum seekers had been sleeping on city sidewalks outside a homeless support centre at 129 Peter St. downtown as the city and federal government went back and forth over shelter funding.

On July 18, the federal government agreed to provide $97 million and the governments of Ontario and Toronto each pledged additional money get more people into permanent housing and quickly free up spaces in the shelter system. 

One week later, the city said it had secured space for more asylum seekers and refugee claimants at two hotels and an emergency shelter location. 

In a new statement to CBC Toronto Thursday, a city spokesperson said to date 245 people had been referred to those indoor spaces and that work continues to bring that figure to 250. But the spokesperson cautioned the system will continue to face immense pressures.

“Hundreds of asylum seekers still need more stable accommodation, and new people seeking asylum continue to arrive in Toronto daily in need of shelter and support,” the statement read. 

“The City calls on partners in the Federal Government to immediately establish a reception centre for refugee claimants and asylum seekers, which will provide a welcoming space and connection to centralized services for these new arrivals,” it continued.

Pastor Eddie Jjumba, who works at Milliken Wesleyan Methodist Church in Markham but who volunteers at Dominion Church International Toronto, is pictured here.
Pastor Eddie Jjumba, who works at Milliken Wesleyan Methodist Church in Markham but who volunteers at Dominion Church International in Toronto, says the churches have taken a leadership role because they don’t want anyone to go back to sleeping on the street. But he says the churches cannot do the work for months on end. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Pastor Eddie Jjumba, who works at a church in Markham but volunteers at Dominion Church International in Toronto, said 20 new asylum seekers showed up at Dominion’s doorstep on Tuesday night.

“I was so stressed,” Jjumba said on Thursday. “We’ve been maxed for the last good days. We’ve been maxed. So I am stressed in that moment.”

Dominion has been taking in asylum seekers for weeks, and the church is now at capacity because it is providing shelter to more than 100 people, he said.

Jjumba said he was worried that the church would have to send the 20 asylum seekers back to the street, which its leaders do not want to do. In that moment, he said he remembered that Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles might be able to help. He called and found out that the church indeed had space.

“For me, it was like a miracle. Because now, the 20 people we had, we didn’t have to send not even one of them back to the street. For me, that was a big relief,” he said.

Pastor Chi Opia-Evans at Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles took all 20 in and more asylum seekers showed up the next day. 

Jjumba said he is not surprised that Black-led churches in Toronto are taking a leadership role, but said they have limited resources and need support from members of the public and all levels of government.

Jjumba said the churches might not be able to provide shelter to asylum seekers for months on end.

Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles 2
Two people prepare food for asylum seekers who are staying at Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles in Etobicoke. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Miller, for her part, said Pilgrim Feast Tabernacles needs toiletries for the asylum seekers. 

Leadership at the church bought 60 brand new mattresses and bedding when it was called upon to help, costing the church about $450. A restaurant run by the church, Forks and Fingers Cuisine, has also closed down to the public been supporting the refugees.

Miller said the funds will be covered by the church but half of what has been spent is uncovered.

“We’re going to do it, though, somehow, because the people need the help,” she said.

Miller said the church is willing to work with the city to help the asylum seekers and is hoping that, ultimately, they can find permanent housing.


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