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Letter in Support of Tiny Shelter Builder, Khaleel Seivwright

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The letter attached has been written by a few Christian churches and expresses our concern about the injunction towards Mr. Khaleel Seivwright, and ultimately, our deep concern for the safety of those living (and dying) on the street at this current time. Please see the attached letter, which addresses these concerns through the lens of our faith and our care for one another.

Tiny homes have proven to be a life-saving, immediate option for many. But instead of supporting these efforts and finding safe places for the tiny homes to reside, they are being taken from parks (when folks are still actively using them) and destroyed.

We are inviting Christians of any denomination to sign on to this letter by Sunday, March 7 at 5pm. Please discretely share within your local or relevant Christian networks. Please DO NOT share widely (i.e. social media) until the letter is finalized with all signatures and presented to the people to whom it is addressed in the appropriate way first. It does not help our expansive efforts of unified communication to have the letter ‘leaked’ before it is properly delivered.

If you are signing on behalf of an organization, please include that in the appropriate field below.

March 3, 2021

Dear Mayor Tory and City Councillors,

We are writing in regard to the work of Mr. Khaleel Seivwright, the creator of tiny shelters for the protection of the homeless in the City of Toronto. 

As people of faith who have joined you over decades in the creation of the supportive and affordable housing, we understand the complexities in bringing housing to a growing population. We have worked with the City of Toronto to provide hundreds of units of housing to those who need it most. Our churches have seen the plight of those who remain outside, as we maintain intimate connections with people who live on the streets, in the ravines, on church floors, and throughout the shelter system. We know that there are challenges, both structural and individual, in providing safe housing and shelter. 

However, as people of faith we have a tradition. When faced with these challenges, our communities provide us resources and vision that seem audacious in their simplicity, and effective in their intervention. In a tradition that stretches from the writings of Moses, where we are called to “Open our hand to the poor in our land” to Isaiah who calls us to feed the hungry and to house the homeless, to Jesus, who provided food and welcome to those who were considered beyond the pale of acceptability. It is clear that our faith calls individuals in times of great need to challenge the structures of their day, and to provide shelter and welcome for those in need, even to our enemy. Our tradition puts none below this essential right, yet in our world we see that this has become the norm. 

Almost every week, we are made aware of someone we know who has died on the street. Their bodies are found on sidewalk grates, in bus shelters, tents, and port-a-potties— right in the middle of this world class city. The marginalized are not being cared for; instead, they are being neglected and forgotten.

This situation is an outcome of a failure of all levels of government to meet the housing needs of our most vulnerable citizens. A crisis that has been amplified by the pandemic, where our system has been slow to provide the needed infrastructure and solutions. In turn, Mr. Seivwright has provided a nimble and creative response to a humanitarian crisis. He has undoubtedly saved lives. In the context of a pandemic, where highly transmissible COVID variants are now present in shelters, the choice to live outside is not an irrational one. Mr. Seivwright’s shelters provide the qualities that are of urgent need in this pandemic that we have failed to deliver to all persons: privacy, security, autonomy, and sustained community connections.  

We are reminded in the season of Lent that Mr. Seivwright’s tiny shelters are of our Gospel requirements to create shelter and safety for the most vulnerable. Tiny shelters are not a long term solution, but during this time of few options, we see them as an effective intervention to prevent further death within our communities. They significantly reduce the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, heat stroke and other complications of exposure to the elements—while significantly increasing safety for communities that we recognize as having a heightened risk of assault, rape, and theft. We have seen testimonials of individuals who have used these tiny shelters as a bridge between the street and supportive housing, and from those who expressed that their tiny shelter prevented their death. To quote one resident of a tiny home in Toronto’s Downtown East, who now resides in temporary housing:

“My tiny home was comfortable, it was cozy, had enough room- it definitely saved my life. I was safer than in a shelter. Whenever you congregate with the virus, you are in danger. I’ve seen people die in the shelters. Just last week I found a young woman dead in a bus shelter.” 

Our Gospel message calls upon us to witness that serving our vulnerable neighbour is akin to serving Christ in our midst— an act of love and spirit that is our common call across all faiths. Through your request for injunction against Mr. Seivwright, you are acting against the will of our hearts and the well-being of our communities. As such, we ask you to withdraw your legal proceedings against Mr. Seivwright. We ask the City to withdraw from this position of conflict, and to join in this opportunity to collaborate and transform Toronto. This pandemic poses the opportunity to invest in social innovation that provides for the common good. We ask that you join in collaboration with remarkable agents of change like Mr. Seivwright, and the growing landscape of those who are offering creative ideas to keep people safe and alive. We pray for your continued decision making, and that you work to uplift all of the residents of our city. 

Peace and blessings.

Concerned Christians of Toronto