Khaleel Seivwright, the carpenter behind the Toronto Tiny Shelters project that made news this weekend, says his temporary shelters should be allowed to stay on city property in order to save lives.
Seivwright's insulated huts are designed to help members of the city’s homeless community stay warm and safe this winter, but the City of Toronto has told him that he has to remove the structures from public property.
However, Seivwright has started a petition to try and convince the City to leave the small sheds where they are.
Are the tiny shelters still up?
Speaking to Narcity on the phone, Seivwright confirmed that none of the 10 shelters on city property had been removed yet.
A spokesperson from the City of Toronto told Narcity that the structures created "significant health and safety concerns," and Seivwright says Mayor John Tory called his shelters a "fire hazard."
Seivwright says that view is "detached from reality."
If the City had inspected his sheds, he said, they’d find safety features like smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Toronto's Parks Bylaw clearly prohibits tents and structures in public spaces, and an October 21 decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice denied a change to the bylaw that would have allowed people to stay in parks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the city's spokesperson said people would only be removed from an encampment once they'd been "offered a safe, inside space."
But with his new petition, Seivwright hopes it won't have to get to that point.
Does COVID-19 make life harder for homeless people?
Winter is always difficult for Toronto's unhoused community, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes it especially hard to live without a fixed address.
"Usually they'd be able to sit inside of a Tim Hortons or McDonald's or at least manage to warm up somewhere for a little longer, like a library," Seivwright explained.
"They do not have access [to these places anymore] so we're going to have people that are just outside constantly, regardless of the temperature. They will have nowhere to go."
Since March 2020, the City of Toronto has directed over 1,000 people from encampments to "safe inside spaces" and they're adding over 500 more spaces for the winter.
But Seivwright doesn't think that's enough.
"That sounds great but there's still so many people, not in shelters,” Seivwright said. “They seem to really emphasize the fact that we have programs in place, but they don't like to talk about the fact that lots of people fall through programs and these are the same people dying on the streets, every winter.”
Will the tiny shelters stay up in Toronto?
Seivwright said he has received an “extremely supportive” response from people who have read about his project.
The petition calls on the City of Toronto to reverse its decision and allow the huts to stay up.
"These shelters are not meant to be a permanent solution," the petition reads. "These shelters are needed to protect people from freezing to death during the Canadian winter."
Seivwright is happy to work with the city — he just wants to help people make it through a cold winter.
“If the city does change their mind and decide to make shelters a part of the solution for helping people not freeze to death this winter, we're very open to working with them,” he said.