• Khaleel Seivwright is a Toronto carpenter who's been constructing small, insulated shelters for the city's homeless.
  • Toronto's government says that the shelters interfere with their efforts to get people off the streets and encourage them to stay in hazardous encampments. 
  • The shelters cost $1,000 and take 8 hours to assemble. Seivwright says he'll continue despite an order from the city tp stop building them on public land.

The man creating insulated shelters for Toronto’s homeless has vowed to continue his work in the face of resistance from the city.

Khaleel Seivwright is a 28-year-old Scarborough carpenter who’s been making "Toronto Tiny Shelters" with over $150,000 from a GoFundMe campaign. Toronto’s government is less than pleased with the unauthorized construction on public lands and responded to an offer from Seivwright to partner with them by sending him a letter ordering him to stop.

"At first, I was pretty upset about it," Seivwright told CBC News Saturday. "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."

The letter came from Toronto’s manager of city parks Janie Romoff on Thursday. Romoff says the shelters interfere with Toronto’s efforts to get homeless people off the streets and told Seivwright he could be held responsible for the cost of removing them.

"Your activities may have the effect of encouraging individuals to continue to occupy public property in conditions which are both dangerous and unhealthy," Romoff wrote.

"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, including removal of the structures from city properties without further notice."

In an email Sunday, Toronto explained to CBC that ad-hoc living spaces create health risks due to lack of running water and sanitation along with the presence of open flames, generators and propane tanks. The city’s 450 estimated encampments generated 189 fires this year, according to data from the Toronto fire department.

The government has been attempting to relocate people to safer housing and ensures that everyone has a place to stay before clearing an illegal encampment.

A streetcar is seen in traffic in Toronto, Canada's largest city
A streetcar is seen in traffic in Toronto, Canada's largest city AFP / OLIVIER MONNIER

Seivwright objects to the allegation that his shelters encourage the occupation of unsafe environments, noting that they have alarms to detect smoke and carbon monoxide. The wall are lined with fiberglass insulation and have wheels to remain mobile. Each shelter costs roughly $1,000 and requires only eight hours for Seivwright to assemble.

Seivwright says he’ll continue to assemble the structures, now using private property and partnering with local churches. CBC spoke to a local street nurse, Cathy Crowe, who said that while she had once opposed the shelters, she now sees them as necessary for a city that can't provide for its homeless residents.

"It should be considered as a part of the solution instead of something that needs to be removed,” she said. "I really feel the city is failing drastically and that this is a life-saving measure.”

According to Fred Victor, an organization that aims to help end homelessness in Toronto, over 10,000 people are homeless on any given night in the Canadian city. The numbers are said to be an all-time high with most shelters averaging 98% occupancy each night.