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City issues warning letter to Toronto carpenter building shelters for unhoused people | CBC News

The City of Toronto has sent a warning letter to a Toronto carpenter who is building tiny mobile shelters for unhoused people ahead of winter and it says it could take legal action if the structures remain on city property.

But Khaleel Seivwright, 28, a Scarborough resident, said he is determined to keep building the insulated structures, known as Toronto Tiny Shelters, and is already planning a workaround to avoid legal action from the city. 

Any new shelters he builds will be placed on private property and there are churches already willing to house them on their grounds.

“At first, I was pretty upset about it,” Seivwright said on Saturday about the city’s warning.

“Then I was collecting myself and realizing that OK, we still have to build these things. There’s still going to be people that need them, regardless of what the city is saying about them. We just find a way to work around this now.”

After initial positive talks with the city regarding a possible partnership, Seivwright was served with the formal written warning in a letter dated Nov. 19 from Janie Romoff, general manager of the city’s parks, forestry and recreation division.

One of Khaleel Seivwright’s Toronto Tiny Shelters sits in Alexandra Park. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Romoff said there are 10 shelters built by Seivwright currently on city property at several locations.

“The city has not issued permits or in any way consented to the placing of these structures on its property,” Romoff said in the letter.

“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.”

Romoff said the shelters are interfering with the city’s work to move people off the streets, out of parks and into shelters or temporary housing.

“Your activities are interfering with this initiative and may have the effect of encouraging individuals to continue to occupy public property in conditions which are both dangerous and unhealthy,” Romoff said.

“Therefore, be advised that should the unlawful installation of these structures on city property continue, the city reserves its right to take legal action and/or employ any and all enforcement tools available to it under the relevant statutes and bylaws including, but not limited to, removal of the structures from city properties without further notice.”

The city has not yet responded to a request made on Friday morning from CBC Toronto for comment.

$129,700 collected in donations for project

Seivwright said the shelters are safe and outfitted with carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms.

The walls of each shelter are lined with a thick layer of fibreglass insulation normally used in residential construction. There is a door, a small casement window and spinning caster wheels at each corner of the base. The whole thing costs about $1,000 in new material and takes Seivwright eight hours to construct.

Seivwright said he sees the shelters as a temporary alternative for people who would otherwise be sleeping in tents or under tarps and blankets. He is paying for the project largely through a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign, where he has so far collected $129,700.

, Daily Echoed
Street nurse Cathy Crowe says: ‘I’ve always opposed this kind of structure or solution. And in the last month, I’ve done a complete 360 because I really feel the city is failing drastically and that this is a life-saving measure.’ (Laura DaSilva/CBC)

Street nurse Cathy Crowe, for her part, said she sees Seivwright as a “hero” and she was angry to hear he received a warning letter from the city. He is aiding people who are suffering, she added.

“I’ve always opposed this kind of structure or solution. And in the last month, I’ve done a complete 360 because I really feel the city is failing drastically and that this is a life-saving measure,” Crowe said.

Crowe said there are an estimated 1,000 people sleeping outside in Toronto right now during the pandemic. 

Without more hotel rooms, rent supplements or housing allowances provided by the city and a provincial ban on evictions, people need somewhere safe to stay, she said.

Seivwright said of his shelters: “It should be considered as a part of the solution instead of something that needs to be removed.”

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