Building a solution for winter homelessness in Toronto

As temperatures drop and we can expect snowy months ahead, issues of homelessness concern Torontonians. (Courtesy of Victoria Silman)

Khaleel Seivwright, who’s been using his talents as a carpenter to create miniature shelters for the homeless, has been issued a warning by the City of Toronto insisting that he stop production and distribution of these projects. Seivwright’s organization, Toronto Tiny Shelters, is now trying to fight back and work around this halting of production in order to provide those in need with shelter for the coming winter.

“Conditions in encampments create significant health and safety concerns for those living outside,” states Tommy Robinson, manager of media relations and issue management for the City of Toronto, when asked about the response to Seivwright’s work. 

“Open flames, generators, propane tanks, and lack of access to water and sanitation, increases health and safety risks. Toronto Fire Services responded to reports of at least 209 encampment fires this year, demonstrating the significant risk that encampments can pose to individuals living outdoors and the broader community.”  

“Encampments are not cleared until notice has been provided and everyone sleeping on-site is offered a safe, inside space,” Robinson continues. “Since mid-March, the city and its partners have referred more than 1,100 individuals from encampments to a space in the shelter system.”

Initial “frustration and surprise” came to Seivwright after receiving the warnings, as conversation of potential partnership was in the works. But despite all the roadblocks, Seivwright explains that he would be open to the possibility of working with the City of Toronto “in order to create a better solution to this problem.” 

“I think it would only be good if we’re able to work together to make this a piece of the puzzle for the solution.”

Seivwright explains that the inspiration for Toronto Tiny Shelters followed after he had built and lived in his own shelter for roughly three years.

“I guess coming back to Toronto and just seeing everyone sleeping in tents, I figured ‘this is something I can do.’” 

This warning, which has come amid the current pandemic and just as winter has begun, has sparked backlash across the country, placing the City of Toronto’s handling of the homeless crisis into question as thousands of its citizens currently face homelessness. This also comes just months after Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Chris Glover and citizens urged Ontario to declare Toronto’s housing crisis a state of emergency

Robinson contends that the city’s focus remains on helping homeless individuals find safe, indoor spaces for them to have access to.

“This winter, during the extreme cold weather alerts, the city will increase the number of teams that provide community outreach. Street outreach staff will also hand out blankets and sleeping bags during those weather alerts.”

Seivwright says the city’s efforts to combat homelessness is an uphill battle, especially during the second lockdown where heading inside an establishment to warm up may no longer be an option. 

“I mean, every single year people are falling through the cracks of their programs, and they’re just winding up outside. I think it’d be great if they could do more, but it’s almost never enough. With this coming pandemic, I feel like it’s going to be even more difficult to meet this issue.” 

While the future of Seivwright’s shelters is unclear at the moment, he has no plans of stopping his help for those in need. 

“With everything that’s happened, I guess in the worst-case scenario, the shelters that we have given to people and these encampments will be forced to be relocated. We’ve contacted a few churches that are willing to have them on their property, and we will relocate them. And then also just continue to build them for people that need them.” 

Toronto Tiny Shelter’s GoFundMe page, and link to their petition, can be found here. 

About the Author

Sarah Garofalo

By Sarah Garofalo

Assistant News Editor


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