Man who built shelters for homeless agrees to stand down after legal fight with city

·3 min read

TORONTO — A man who built small shelters to keep Toronto's homeless population warm in the winter says he won't revive the initiative this year after a legal fight with the city.

Khaleel Seivwright says he will shut down his online fundraising campaign for "Toronto Tiny Shelters" and the program won't continue "in the same way."

A settlement document released by the city shows Seivwright has agreed not to place any more of his structures on city property unless he gets permission, nor will he maintain or relocate any of the existing shelters on city land.

Toronto has argued the structures are a fire risk and violate bylaws, pointing to a fatal fire involving a wooden structure in an encampment in February, along with several other blazes that caused injuries.

City officials say the shelters are made of flammable materials and can be hard to exit given their small size.

But Seivwright says his structures provided a cheap and safe alternative to the city's shelter program, where assault can be common and the spread of COVID-19 was rampant.

Data obtained by The Canadian Press earlier in the summer shows a significant rise in violent incidents in Toronto's shelter system over the last five years.

Seivwright said his goal was to help the city and tackle some of the big issues it faces: "poverty, lack of affordable housing, and a broken shelter system."

"Leading up to this agreement I have been in conversation with the City in an attempt to secure permanent housing for encampment residents that want and need it. But it has been obvious that putting this problem out of sight has been the City's main concern instead," he wrote in an Instagram post.

The city has come under intense scrutiny for its handling of the homelessness crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people hoping to avoid the violence and illness they said they faced in the municipal shelter system set up large encampments in parks, but were evicted by police and city staff in July.

Violent clashes broke out between police and those advocating for encampment residents. Police officers in riot gear methodically cleared the encampments, forcing everyone out.

The city has said some of the people living in the encampments opted to move to a shelter.

In his Saturday post, Seivwright said those evictions demonstrate the city's attitude towards homelessness.

"The future of our city does not depend on ruthlessly enforcing policies that have no regard for the human beings who live here," he wrote. "It does not depend on squeezing out anyone who finds themselves unable to afford rent."

He suggested he hopes others will take up his mantle.

"It's late August now, and cold weather is only a few months away," he wrote. "Although the city decided to file an injunction against me, there is only one name on this application. I hope that others continue to do what they are inspired to do to support people living outside, until the day comes when the people who run this City step up and do their job."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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