New refugee home opens for unaccompanied youth!

They come to us from all corners of the globe.

Some are classified as children but they arrive alone, without parents. Often they have nothing but the clothes on their backs. No one is expecting them and no one welcomes them. Sometimes they are simply dumped on the streets of Toronto, left to fend for themselves. Even in the cold of winter.

Alone, afraid and very vulnerable

In recent years we have seen an alarming number of unaccompanied refugee youth arriving at our doors. These refugees, some as young as 16, have been forced by war, persecution, and threats to their lives to flee their homelands and leave their families behind.

Ten years ago, Matthew House opened a home near Dundas and Lansdowne Streets to welcome vulnerable refugees of all ages. Due to the sheer number of young people coming to us for help, it has evolved into a home exclusively for unaccompanied youth. Surprisingly there are no city-run shelters in Toronto specifically geared for refugee youth. Matthew House has been on the front line in responding to this vital need.

A warm and welcoming home

Our home is a very vibrant place. Youth from some of the harshest war zones in the world live together with volunteer house parents in an incredibly supportive community. They attend local high schools, hold part-time jobs and live much like Canadian teens, experiencing the joys and challenges of that stage.

If you ask any of them what it feels like to live at the home, they will say, “we are like a family.” They feel secure, valued and loved. They do not fear for their safety and can plan for the future. A number have gone on to graduate from university, becoming contributors to society. Currently, several former teen residents are enrolled in engineering and physics programs at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University.

Sadly we have had to turn many youth away due to a lack of space. Newly arrived youth at our reception shelter await space in our longer-term home, but it is full. The need outweighs the supply. We simply have had no place to put them.

Now for the good news!

We are in partnership with C3 Toronto, a forward-thinking, community-minded church, who are committed to making a positive difference in the city.

This fall they have provided us with the use of a beautiful four-bedroom house just down the street from our current refugee youth home. It is a tremendous opportunity and cause for celebration as it enables us to do something about the lack of space for our youngest and most vulnerable refugees.

The new home will be modelled after our existing one. It will offer a supportive environment, complete with live-in house parents to provide guidance as residents adapt to life in Canada and complete high school. Most of all, it will provide a home, a family and a sense of belonging to refugee youth who have lost so much.

We invite you, our community, to join us in making this house a home.

Your generosity at Christmas time has always made it possible for Matthew House to provide compassionate support to newly arrived refugees.

This year, we have a special request: help us turn this house into a true home for unaccompanied refugee youth. There are many ways you can partner with us. We have listed some of our most important needs below.

Your gift will make such a difference. Thank you for caring for the most vulnerable among us.

With gratitude,

Karen Francis and Anne Woolger
Executive Director and Founding Director

Join Team Matthew House Today!

We are very excited to have you join Matthew House at the Scotiabank Run on October 22, 2017. This is our biggest yearly fundraiser bringing together over 130 members of our community who actively fundraise to show their support. Our goal this year is to raise $100,000 .

This event is fun for everyone. Last year, three former Matthew House residents Mimi, Mesfin and Salam came in second, fourth and fifth in the 5km race respectively. Despite not having time to practice these former international marathoners from Ethiopia crossed the finishing line being cheered on by thousands of spectators at Nathan Phillips Square. The Scotiabank Run was the first time they felt that coming to Canada was a place of hope to continue their careers as professional athletes.

You can show your support for newly arrived refugees in the city by joining our team!

This initiative is part of the larger Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon that has 5km, half and full marathon races which you can walk or run. Each participant has a personal fundraising page where they can raise support.

Visit our web page for easy instructions on registration and discount codes that will take money off. Please note that the discount code needs to be entered when you choose “start a Scotiabank Charity Challenge Fundraising Account”.

If you have any questions or require support, please feel free to email us at Once registered, you will receive material that will help support your fundraising and training goals.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates on the run and other events.

Thank you for partnering with us. Your support will make you a real difference in the lives of the refugees arriving in our city every day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 / 7:30 pm
VIP Reception – 6:30 pm
General doors open at 7:00 pm

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
506 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1Y3

Matthew House is pleased to present Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. This BBC documentary follows the journey of refugees attempting to reach Europe, escaping war, poverty or persecution. Recorded in part by the refugees themselves using camera phones, this ground-breaking documentary provides a terrifying and intimate portrait of the refugee crisis.

In addition to screening part one of this compelling three-part BBC documentary, the evening will include an engaging panel discussion moderated by Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC Radio One’s The Current. We are fortunate to have Anne Maria guide this important discussion with experts on the refugee crisis. The evening will be one of information and discovery about what is happening in the refugee space from both a Canadian and global perspective.

For tickets visit


End the Third Safe Country Agreement

In light of the latest policies from the Trump administration, many are asking how to respond.  One call to action for Canadians is to call upon our federal government to modify its current immigration policies especially with respect to the Safe Third Country Agreement. Below are links providing further background information and a sample letter you can send your Member of Parliament and the Minister of Immigration today!

Helpful Links:

Sample letter to your Member of Parliament 

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Hussen:

I am deeply troubled by American President Donald Trump’s recent executive order banning the entry of refugees and visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries.

In light of Mr. Trump’s actions, I believe that Canada has a moral duty to protect refugees in need regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs. The recent edict by Mr. Trump creates an environment which is unsafe for all asylum seekers in the USA. I am therefore calling upon the government of Canada to repeal of the “Safe Third Country” agreement. Under this agreement, barring a few exceptions, refugee claimants are denied the opportunity to seek asylum at our borders from the USA.  I also call upon the government to expand our target numbers for government and privately sponsored refugees this year to include provisions to add “rejected” refugees originally destined (and vetted) for the USA, to our numbers, if no other alternate measures can be found for these refugees in need of protection. Thank you for your prompt action.

Yours Sincerely,



Matthew House Response to recent refugee-related edicts in USA

Matthew House stands in solidarity with refugees in need of protection everywhere, irrespective of their race, religion or other distinguishing characteristics.  

We believe in the dignity and worth of every human person.
We believe that every person deserves a safe home.
We believe all people have the right to enjoy freedom from fear.
We believe that race, religion and nationality should not stand in the way of inclusion.
We believe that every person deserves to be treated with fairness and justice.
We believe every person has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

We stand with our sisters and brothers in the USA and everywhere who also believe.

In response to the recent Executive Order passed by the Trump administration in the United States, we stand together with our refugee-supporting colleagues across Canada in calling upon the government of Canada to immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement.  This agreement was put in place in 2004 which barred would-be asylum seekers who did not have close relatives in Canada (or were not unaccompanied minors) from entering Canada via American borders. Human rights activists at the time fought this bill arguing that even then, there was evidence that asylum seekers in the USA faced grave hardships (eg. risk of long term detention) and other serious risks which therefore deemed it an unsafe country.  Given the recent government edicts and the current political climate, the risk to vulnerable asylum seekers is much more evident today.  No asylum seeker arriving at our border from the USA should be turned back.

Here are two official statements from Canadian coalitions supporting refugee rights in Canada namely: the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and the Canadian Association of Refugees Lawyers (CARL).

Matthew House concurs with the sentiments and recommendations expressed in each of these statements.

Two official statements from Canadian coalitions supporting refugee rights in Canada

CCR calls on Canada to increase refugee resettlement and withdraw from Safe Third Country Agreement

In the wake of the January 27 Executive Order signed by the US President, the Canadian Council for Refugees urges Canadians and the Canadian government to redouble their efforts to welcome refugees and to reject all discrimination against Muslims.

The Order temporarily halts all resettlement of refugees to the US, and halves the number of refugees to be resettled in the current year, bars Syrian refugees and discriminates against refugees of Muslim faith or background. The Order also imposes a temporary ban on the admission of nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The loss of US leadership on refugee protection will be devastating to refugees globally. This makes Canada’s leadership role more important than ever. While Canada cannot hope to fill the vacuum left by the US, we should certainly do what we can.

In particular, the CCR calls on the Canadian government to respond to the US cuts by increasing Canada’s refugee resettlement targets and by opening the door to more refugee sponsorship applications. The government is planning to bring just 7,500 Government Assisted Refugees and 16,000 Privately Sponsored Refugees in 2017.

Recent measures have significantly limited Canadian sponsors’ ability to apply to sponsor refugees. These measures include suspension of Quebec’s sponsorship program, a lower than expected cap for Sponsorship Agreement Holders, and limitations for Groups of Five regarding which refugees they can sponsor.

We also urge the Canadian government to offer to resettle, on an emergency basis, all refugees who were approved for resettlement to the US but are now denied entry to the US, over and above Canada’s refugee resettlement targets for 2017.

CCR also calls on the Canadian government to withdraw from the Safe Third Country Agreement with the US, which closes the door to most refugee claimants applying at Canada’s land border. The US was never safe for all refugees and is now even less safe. Withdrawing from the Agreement would mean that those needing Canada’s protection could apply in an orderly way at the border, rather than being forced, as now, to cross the border irregularly, putting themselves at physical danger and promoting opportunities for smugglers.

Canadians who are looking for ways to resist Trump’s measures are encouraged to show solidarity with people of all faiths and to support local organizations who work with refugee claimants. These organizations (which receive little or no government funding) are serving increasing numbers of refugee claimants, many of whom have arrived via the US.


Janet Dench, Executive Director,, 514-277-7223 (ext 2)

CARL Calls For Suspension of Safe Third Country Agreement, Increased Refugee Re-Settlement, In Wake of Trump Executive Orders

January 30, 2017

For Immediate Release
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) condemns President Donald Trump’s recent Executive Orders on immigration. These Orders set in motion profound changes in US immigration and refugee practices, and will have far-reaching effects on the availability of asylum in the US.

In the wake of these changes, and given deep uncertainty over their effects, CARL is calling on Canada to immediately suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the US.

Under the STCA, those who try to enter Canada through the US to make a refugee claim at the border are returned to the US regardless of whether they will or already have had access to asylum in the US. The US and Canada have considered one another “safe” for asylum-seekers. The STCA creates a North American approach to refugee approvals. With President Trump’s Executive Orders, the US is unilaterally changing the terms of that approach, with potentially disastrous consequences for vulnerable asylum-seekers.

“We are witnessing a dramatic shift away from basic norms of human rights and refugee protection in the US. In this environment we simply cannot rely on the Trump administration to protect the refugees we turn away at our borders. Canada has a duty to suspend enforcement of the STCA immediately” said Mitch Goldberg, President of CARL.

In light of the unilateral changes announced in the Executive Order, CARL is calling on Canada to reassess US asylum law and practice during the suspension period and, unless the evidence indicates that the US actually complies with its international refugee law obligations, the termination of the agreement.

“We should not be sending anyone back to face an increasingly hostile and discriminatory system,” said Lobat Sadrehashemi, Vice-President of CARL. 

CARL is also calling on Canada to respond to the US suspension of refugee resettlement by increasing the number of refugees it will re-settle in 2017, given the suspension of the US refugee resettlement. “We are living through a global refugee crisis. In addition to the acute needs of refugees from Syria, refugee populations in other parts of the world, including eastern Africa, will be deeply affected by the US decision to suspend its refugee program. Now more than ever, other countries need to step forward,” said Toronto-based refugee lawyer, and CARL Advocacy Chair, Andrew Brouwer.

Finally, CARL is calling on Canada to work with other resettlement countries and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to fill the gaps caused by the US suspension of its resettlement program. “We should be working with other countries to ensure that the individuals and families who have already gone through the US’ refugee screening program can be re-settled elsewhere,” said Toronto-based refugee lawyer and past President of CARL, Lorne Waldman.

  • For more information, please contact:
  • Mitch Goldberg, 514-808-0843
  • Lobat Sadrehashemi, 604-374-4860
  • Andrew Brouwer, 416-435-3269
  • Lorne Waldman, 416-254-4590

There’s still time!

As this year winds down, we wish for you a very happy 2017 filled with joy and peace.

Your support this year has made a great impact.  Thanks to you, 2016 was a transformative year at Matthew House.  As one resident recently told us….this is my home and my family, you have saved my life.

Here are the many ways you have supported our residents:

  • 100 refugees were welcomed and supported through our three homes.
  • 10 youth and 5 families were given a place to call home.
  • 27 refugee families received additional assistance through our community partnership and outreach program.

We want to say yes to even more refugees in 2017, but we need you say yes first.  Your generous year-end donation will make this happen.

Thank you for continuing to partner with us.  We are so grateful for your support in bringing hope and a caring community to the refugees who arrive on our doorstep.

Happy New Year!

Grace & Peace,

Karen Francis and Anne Woolger
Executive Director and Founding Directo

An Unexpected Family In A New Country


Thanks to you, Matthew has a family and hope for his future. However, when the young Nigerian first arrived in Canada he had a difficult experience seeking asylum at the border. Alone and already traumatized, he then found himself in a rough men’s shelter in downtown Toronto. “The other men tried to pick fights with me and tried to force me to do and sell drugs. I kept praying to God to help me,” he says. Help came when he was directed to Matthew House. “A house with the same name as me!” recalls Matthew.

Matthew House is a safe haven. “I was so thankful for the warm welcome, love, and support I felt,” says Matthew. Safe at last and exhausted he was finally able to sleep through the night. Matthew House staff and volunteers helped him enrol in high school, gave him orientation to Canada, and sent him for counseling to deal with his painful refugee experience. “I could see the drive and passion of the Matthew House community who sincerely wanted to help me and others,” says Matthew.

Your support facilitates meaningful bonds for long-term success. When it came time for him to move out on his own, there was no space at Matthew House’s two transition homes. Enter Paul Zurbrigg, a long-time volunteer who befriended Matthew. “When Paul invited me to come and live with him, it was the best thing I’d ever heard,” says Matthew. Four years later, they truly consider themselves a family. He describes Paul as the dad he had lost. “I see him very much as family—like a son,” says Paul.


Your generosity supports people like Matthew. Without Matthew House, he could have had a very different journey. He arrived in a strange country frightened and alone. Now Matthew feels part of a family and dreams of going to college to become a police officer. When asked about the future, Matthew replied: “When I have a family of my own someday, I want [Paul] to come and live with us – never in a nursing home – as my future kids would have a very good grandfather.”

As we enter the season of giving, we are asking again for your help. Please consider becoming a monthly partner or making a one-time contribution so that together we can build a supportive, welcoming, and caring community for all refugees.

May you find great satisfaction in knowing you have helped refugees, like Matthew, realise the safe, happy and hopeful life we all so richly deserve.


Karen Francis and Anne Woolger
Executive Director and Founding Director

Giving thanks for our community


 Emmy, Sarah and Rahwa at the Scotiabank Charity Run 2015

This weekend many of us will gather with family and loved ones to give thanks for our many blessings. Sadly, the security we are grateful for is not guaranteed to everyone. Many refugees, even upon arrival in Canada, live in fear for their safety, never sure what the next day will bring.

This is why we are grateful for people like you who make this community possible.

This weekend residents across our three homes will have a safe place to call home including Sarah, Emmy, and Rahwa.  In the past year, all three had nowhere to turn when they arrived in Canada.  For Sarah, and her daughter, who has special needs, they had no support system or a place to stay.  Emmy and Rahwa, who arrived as unaccompanied minors, found themselves in frightening situations their first few days in Canada.  Thankfully, they were quickly connected to Matthew House and are part of our family.

This was made possible thanks to your support. It enables our community to provide holistic care to the many refugees who access our services each year.

At this time of year when we count our many blessings, will you bless a refugee with a safe and loving home in Canada?

Join our Scotiabank team today and raise support for our refugee family.  Online registration ends on Monday.  You can also sponsor the residents taking part like Sarah, Rahwa, and Emmy.

Thank you so much and Happy Thanksgiving!

Karen Francis
Executive Director