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Seattle Govt Orders Volunteers to Stop Giving Aid to Homeless

We Heart Seattle is a volunteer team that decided it was time to take action in addressing issues facing the homeless population in the city of Seattle. The efforts started off small. They were mostly aimed at picking up the large amounts of trash left by and around homeless settlements. The group claims to have picked up over 320,000 pounds of litter and garbage. They’ve also been able to get nearly 70 people the resources needed to get off the streets and turn things around. Unfortunately the city of Seattle does not approve of the group and their efforts and they have been told to stop giving aid to homeless people.

Andrea Suarez of We Heart Seattle got invited to a zoom meeting with Seattle Councilmember Dan Strauss and a number of other city leaders. Suarez said, “Having cleared more than 100,00 pounds of trash and housing at least five people from (Strauss’) district, I assumed the call would be to thank our volunteers and include us in further outreach efforts.”

stop giving aid to homeless
Friendly volunteers helping clean up their community. Image courtesy of We Heart Seattle.

Instead she was caught off-guard by the ambush, as she puts it, from the government. She was even told by REACH officials that her group’s efforts were “disruptive and confusing to the hard work of REACH and the Human Services Department has already been doing in Ballard Commons and Shilshole Avenue.” “I’m still asking myself, ‘when did volunteerism become disruptive?’” Suarez said in an interview with The Dori Monson Show.

The city’s main complaint was that the effort violated protocol and local laws on how camps should be handled and essentially destroyed. Suarez also points to union turf disputes between Seattle Parks and Seattle Public utilities about who picks up what trash from where. These disputes lead to the large accumulation of trash found in and around homeless encampments.

stop giving aid to homeless

Despite the city coming down on her and her group she has no plans on stopping the good work she is doing for the homeless of Seattle. “I’m going to keep volunteering.”, she said. Her efforts cost nothing from the state or taxpayers while the official preferred response costs millions and have managed to lead to very little assistance reaching those who need it.

This is far from the first time the state has ordered volunteers to stop giving aid to homeless people in need. There are countless stories every year about people being harassed, fined, and even facing jail time simply for helping others without going through the state and its bureaucracy.

We’ve highlighted a couple of these previously here at Voluntaryism In Action. One is a story about the government stalling food donations in the middle of winter. Another about a carpenter in Toronto who was building shelters for free for the homeless being told to stop what he was doing. 

We here at Voluntaryism In Action firmly believe the world would be a much better place if the state would simply get out of the way of the people, especially in their efforts to give aid to those who need it the most.

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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.