khaleel seivwright

Man building homeless shelters threatened with legal action by City of Toronto

Crisp winter weather has reared its head, full lockdown 2.0 has been thrust upon us, and though things are perhaps untenably challenging for everyone right now, they're especially scary for Toronto's most vulnerable, including those experiencing homelessness amid the pandemic.

Hearts across the city were warmed when news spread that resident carpenter Khaleel Seivwright was using his skills and time to build mini shelters for those without housing this season, and thousands jumped in offering funds to help buy materials for the cause.

And though Sievwright managed to raise more than $150,000 over two months through a gofundme campaign, it looks like his kindhearted efforts may be stopped short by the city, which has now threatened to remove the mobile structures from public property.

"The City has not issued permits or in any way consented to the placing of these structures on its property," reads a letter the 28-year-old received over the weekend from Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, per the CBC.

"The City of Toronto therefore demands that you immediately cease the production, distribution, supply and installation of such shelters for the purposes of placement and use on city property. Should you fail to do so, the city may, among other remedies, hold you responsible for the costs of removal of such structures."

The heartlessness of the order has people up in arms, especially given the fact that Mayor John Tory just proclaimed Nov. 22 "National Housing Day" in an effort to demonstrate that "access to affordable and adequate housing is at the heart of a safe, healthy and prosperous community" — a sentiment very at odds with the city's actions. 

Despite the warning, Seivwright has updated the Toronto Tiny Shelters gofundme to state that he has no plans to stop his Good Samaritan work, informing donors on Nov. 21 that "the city has threatened to remove the shelters that we have been building and I want to be clear that we are going to continue to build them."

He told the CBC that because he had initially been in talks with the city about a potential partnership to help house the homeless, the notice was a bit of a shock. Thankfully, churches and other private bodies are permitting him to install shelters on their properties moving forward.

Toronto's homelessness crisis became more palpable than ever this summer when tent encampments popped up in various parks as shelters had to cut capacity to implement proper social distancing and tenants became wary of COVID-19 risks.

Because setting up a structure or sleeping in a public park is illegal under the city's municipal code, an Ontario court ruled last month that the city does have the right to boot those dwelling on its property, and cited that the city "has taken many steps in its shelter system to respond to COVID-19."

The city assures that it has been working to rehouse the hundreds living in parks, including through its 40 new shelter locations opened in recent weeks, some of which have been met with backlash from locals who claim or fear an uptick of crime in their neighbourhoods as a result.

Lead photo by

Khaleel Seivwright

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