toronto tiny shelters

Toronto taking legal action against tiny shelters despite calls to leave them be

The City of Toronto has been trying to stop local carpenter Khaleel Seivwright from building and placing his tiny, insulated homeless shelters in public parks since he first began building them in November.

And despite tens of thousands of residents calling for the structures to be allowed during a particularly difficult winter for those expericing homelessness in Toronto, it seems the city has decided to officially take legal action against Seivwright to prevent him from placing any more of his shelters on city-owned land.

The city published a news release Friday revealing that it had applied for a court injunction "to stop those who are building unsafe wooden structures and illegally depositing them on City property."

The injunction application was filed by the city with the Superior Court of Justice on Feb. 12, according to the release. 

"The City's operating divisions have serious safety concerns with these structures and determined it was necessary to ask the courts to order that construction, illegal placement and/or relocation of these structures on City property be halted," reads the release.

"There are numerous safety risks that exist in encampments including fires, gasoline generators, propane tanks, overdose, and lack of access to water and sanitation."

The announcement follows an encampment fire that broke out on Feb. 17 and tragically left one person dead, though the actual injuction was filed before the incident took place. 

According to the city, Toronto Fire Services responded to 253 fires in encampments in 2020 — a 250 per cent increase over the same period in 2019.

But while the city continues to argue that tiny shelters and encampments in general pose a safety risk to those experiencing homelessness as well as other Toronto residents, advocates have long countered that these makeshift shelters are often the best option in a city with a shelter system that is consistently at capacity. 

Many people experiencing homelessness also say they prefer staying outdoors to facing the subpar living conditions inside the city's shelters, especially with COVID-19 outbreaks plaguing many locations.

Just last month, Seivwright created a short documentary about eight different people living in tiny shelters, each of whom said the structures had changed their lives for the better.

"There's a definite disconnect about the reality that these people are facing. To say that sleeping in a tent or just on the ground or on a park bench is better or safer is just incorrect," he told blogTO at the time.

"[These shelters are] not better than being in housing, but for these people that are waiting to get into housing, this is protecting them." 

Much of the general public quickly got behind the tiny shelters initiative when it began, with 62,706 people signing a petition calling on the city to allow them to remain in parks this winter. A GoFundMe campaign to help Seivwright pay for materials also raised more than $200,000. 

But on Feb. 11, the day before the city filed the injuction, Seivwright posted an update to the fundraising campaign, writing that he had officially stopped building the tiny shelters but plans to continue to do maintenance and relocate the structures as needed as people staying outside gradually get into housing.

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