Over 100 international students have been provided with emergency accommodation over the last two weeks by a Sikh temple in the city of Timmins, Northern Ontario, The PIE News has learned.
Kanwaljit Bains, from the Gurdwara Sikh Sangat Of Timmins said the temple stepped in to support the students who had recently arrived in Canada for the new semester but had nowhere to stay.
Northern College, which has a campus in the city, told The PIE that Timmins and most northern Ontario communities are currently suffering from housing capacity issues and that they are working with community groups to address the issue.
Canada’s challenges with housing have impacted international students recently, with one institution, Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, asking students to defer if they could not find accommodation.
“This isn’t just in Timmins, it is everywhere”
“At Northern College, every semester they have a new batch come in… Now for the January batch, they have, I think, about 500 students coming in,” Bains told The PIE.
“This is the third batch we have experienced, and with every batch there are more and more and more.
“It is a very good thing for Timmins and the community, because we do need these young kids to come in here and get an education and then contribute to our economy here,” she said.
However, Bains explained that Canada’s housing crisis is resulting in a desperate need among students, who are often from India.
“They are struggling to find accommodation, and that is not just for international students. In general housing is in a bit of a crisis. This isn’t just in Timmins, it is everywhere.
“But Timmis, because it’s a small town and it is getting back up on its feet, there is a challenge with respect to housing. Now with the newcomer students… It is a challenging situation,” she said.
Bains added that the city, and the government, are trying to find a solution.
“Not just a temporary solution, but a permanent solution, because as the community is growing, we are all looking for a better way to accommodate the younger generation and growing population of Timmins,” she said.
A spokesperson for Northern College told The PIE that it has employees working at each of its campuses to help students find accommodation within those communities and that they partner with various community groups to “expedite that process”.
“Unfortunately there are always instances where we can’t immediately accommodate students, especially those travelling from overseas to study,” they said.
The spokesperson explained that Timmins and indeed most northern Ontario communities are currently suffering from housing capacity issues and there “simply isn’t enough available housing to accommodate those who require it.”
Northern College said it is working closely with each of the communities it operates in to address what it called a growing issue and to encourage any opportunity for the kind of housing development that helps communities grow to meet demand.
“[There] simply isn’t enough available housing to accommodate those who require it”
The PIE asked Northern College how many international students it currently has enrolled and how these numbers compare with previous years.
The spokesperson said that the exact numbers were not available yet as the college collates enrolment per semester – and gave a ballpark number as around 500.
However, they did say that the numbers have increased in keeping with any Canadian government data on student visa approvals and the backlog from Covid-19 travel restrictions for the past two years.
Issues around accommodation were reported at Canadian institutions throughout 2022.
In December last year, Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia warned international students to stay home if they didn’t have housing arranged before travelling to the country.
The number of international students at the university has dramatically risen in recent years and they now outnumber Canadian students on campus.
CBU has more than 5,000 students in total, two-thirds of them international. It has announced plans to limit international student numbers.
And back in July 2022, The PIE reported that students were facing a “traumatising” search for housing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with some Students falling victims to scams where they paid deposits of $3,000 or more – only to find that the person advertising the apartment was not the landlord and that there was no vacancy.
While the issues with accommodation haven’t affected all areas of Canada to the same extent, Sikh temples across Canada have been providing students with meals, financial aid and access to counselling.
Gurdwara Sikh Sangat Brampton, in the Greater Toronto Area, is currently supporting students financially and given them blankets and bed covers. It said it is in touch with local student unions who alert them to students who are struggling.
Rarvinder Signh Dhaliwal, who is part of the management at the Gurdwara, told The PIE over the last month, they have given shelter to two or three students – but it is not something they do regularly.
He added that during regular weekdays, they cook for over 4,000 people and that over 70% are international students.