Khaleel Seivwright is a carpenter, who works out of his Cabbagetown workshop, and has been using his off time building some interesting structures. They look something like an oversized shoebox, or perhaps a transport crate for a motorcycle, but a closer look reveals something more substantial.
The Toronto carpenter has been thinking about the homeless population and began building shelters after he noticed how many people are staying in tents. “It just seemed like something I could do that would be useful because there’s so many people staying in tents,” said Seivwright, 28. “I’ve never seen so many people staying outside in parks, and this is something I could do to make sure people staying outside in the winter could survive.”
A greater number than normal have been living outside of the shelter system because they are concerned about going indoors. Not a surprise, considering how many experts have worried over the months about how shelters will be able to properly distance people in order to ensure their safety.
But there is also concern that the number of homeless will exceed shelter capacity; Cathy Crowe, a long-time street nurse, said the city vastly underestimates the number of people who sleep outdoors, and she expects that figure to be higher than ever this winter as more people run out of COVID-19 emergency benefits and lose their homes. “It’s going to be catastrophic. We have not yet seen the wave of evictions from people in unstable, unaffordable housing,” she said. “People are trickling into homelessness now, but it’s going to be like nothing we’ve ever seen in our lifetime.”
If that proves true then the city won’t be able to keep up. “Currently, the system is very busy and very full,” said Gord Tanner, director of homelessness initiatives and prevention at the city’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration.
So Khaleel started building. He created small mobile shelters, with walls 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 so it can be moved.
The entire unit costs about $1,000 in materials to build and takes Khaleel eight hours to construct. He started building them last month, and has so far given away two. Yes, he’s giving them away for free, but he’s also not funding the effort all on his own; he has an online fundraiser called Toronto Tiny Shelters to crowdfund the effort and it has gained nearly $92,000 so far.
There are those within the City who believe that outside shelters are not the answer, as they have their own risks, such as fire. And Khaleel aknowledges that his shelters are not the answer. “This isn’t a permanent solution. This is just making sure people don’t die in the cold this winter,” Seivwright said. “At least some people.” He said the shelters will be able to keep people comfortably warm with their own body heat in temperatures as low as -20 C. It is just a patch to try to get a few people through this winter.
While the true solution to the homelessness issue will be programs like a Universal Basic Income, and a Housing First initiative, those are not something the average individual can make happen. So Khaleel is doing what he can to help. He is using the tools available to him to try to ensure that people don’t die needlessly in the cold. And you can see more about this wonderful effort in your Good News Story of the Day here.
It is true that right now the city does not approve of mobile shelters. But Khaleel said the threat of bylaw enforcement won’t deter him from building and distributing the shelters. “This is what I know how to do, this is what seems to be viable, so I’m going to continue to do this.”
Story and Image from CBC News.