As winter draws closer in Canada, many homeless citizens will have to find alternative means to mitigate the harsh weather conditions. More worrying is the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the homeless situation in Toronto, according to Khaleel Seivwright, a carpenter who is building mobile shelters for the homeless.
The wooden shelter, which costs about $1000 to make, has a door and a casement window. Seivwright, a carpenter by profession, builds and distributes the shelters to the homeless in Toronto for free. He tells Canada Broadcasting Corporation (CBS) that the shelter can serve a useful purpose to those who sleep in tents. “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,” he says.
Seivwright sees the shelter as a better alternative for people who would have been sleeping outside under tarpaulins or tents. However, Gord Tanner, director of homelessness initiatives and prevention at the Toronto Shelter, Support and Housing Administration says the mobile shelters “can pose ‘significant’ risks to occupants, including as potential fire hazards,” CBS reports.
Seivwright says threats from bylaw enforcement officers will not deter him from building and distributing the shelters to the homeless. So far, he has distributed two of the wooden shelters in out-of-way locations around Toronto.
The shelters are built with wooden beams and are insulated with fibreglass that a regular home usually has. Essentially, they can keep people warm in temperatures as low as -20 C, he said. “This isn’t a permanent solution. This is just making sure people don’t die in the cold this winter. At least some people.”
Last year, 128 people experiencing homelessness in Toronto died. Fifty-two of them died between October and January, as temperatures grew colder in the city, according to CTV news.
To address the shelter shortfall, the city plans to add 560 more spaces during the winter in addition to the 6,800 shelter beds it is already offering. But residents say the move is woefully inadequate to address the potential homelessness crisis.
Seivwright is determined to building more shelters for homeless people in the city. He believes his action will complement the city’s effort. He mostly funds the project through an online fundraising campaign. So far, he has raised about $95,000.
He writes on his gofundme page: “As shelters are usually at capacity at some point in the winter in Toronto and also because of this coronavirus, making space to allow for social distancing will put even more strain on Toronto’s capacity.”