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Toronto Carpenter is Defying the City to Help the Homeless

Khaleel Seivwright is building insulated, mobile shelters for homeless people this winter. (CBC)

Winter in Canada is no joke. With average temperatures below freezing, Toronto is no exception. Shelter is essential to prevent Canadians from freezing to death. Yet the economic consequences of the government’s reaction to COVID-19 have left an increasing number of Canadians on the streets as winter looms closer. But one Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless.

Khaleel Seivwright, a 28-year-old carpenter, noticed the increasing numbers of homeless people in Toronto. Determined to do something about it, he started constructing small shelters and giving them away for free. With wooden walls, fiberglass insulation, a door, and a window, the shelters are nothing fancy. But they will keep people warm and could be the difference between life and death for some Canadians this winter—even though the shelters are technically illegal.

Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless
Ritchie is living in one of the completed shelters near Lake Ontario. Seivwright says Ritchie was living in a tent before he delivered the shelter. (Khaleel Seivwright)

“It just seemed like something I could do that would be useful because there’s so many people staying in tents,” said Seivwright. “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.”

Predictably, the government officials who get paid with taxpayer money when there are homeless people are not thrilled about Seivwright’s efforts. Gord Tanner, director of homelessness initiatives and prevention at the Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, admitted that “the system is very busy and very full.” With winter still on the way and the Canadian government’s COVID economic restrictions still crushing businesses, homelessness will likely continue to rise.

Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless
A Toronto homeless encampment is pictured in late May. Homelessness advocates say they expect to see more people living outdoors this winter due to the economic downturn caused by the government's COVID-19 restrictions. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Despite this, in an interview with CBC Tanner refused to say if the city would take a more lenient approach to mobile shelters or other encampments this winter, though he noted that mobile shelters can pose “significant” risks to occupants, including as potential fire hazards. Reporters from CBC apparently did not ask Tanner if he thought homeless people would prefer the certainty of death from exposure to the risk of death by fire.

In any case, Seivwright says that the threat of law enforcement won’t deter him from helping people in need. “This is what I know how to do, this is what seems to be viable, so I’m going to continue to do this.” Each shelter costs about $1,000 in new material and takes Seivwright eight hours to construct. Seivwright is paying for the project largely through a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign—funded with voluntary donations.

Advocates for the homeless are urging the City of Toronto to dramatically increase the capacity of its shelter system, which would require forcibly taking money from taxpayers—and a large chunk of that would end up in the pockets of administrators. But as this Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless, his  fundraising campaign exceeded the $20K goal by more than 400% in less than a month. Last week, Seivwright increased the goal to $200K—and as of this writing, it’s more than halfway complete. That means potentially lifesaving shelters for hundreds of Canadians, from an outpouring of kindness and compassion. That’s the power of voluntaryism in action.