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Toronto applies for court injunction on illegal structures in City parks

Last Updated Feb 19, 2021 at 6:41 pm EDT

The City of Toronto is seeking a court injunction to stop people from building what it calls “unsafe wooden structures” and dropping them on City property, including parks.

In a statement, Toronto officials say the structures are not legal dwellings and pose numerous safety risks including fires.

The injunction was filed back on February 12 against Khaleel Sievwright, a Toronto carpenter who has been building these type of wooden shelters for people experiencing homelessness.

The court action also came five days before a deadly fire claimed the life of one man at an encampment near Adelaide and Parliament streets on Wednesday. The City says it is still waiting for a hearing date on the injunction.

RELATED: 1 dead after fire at Orphan’s Park encampment

Neither the City nor fire officials have given any indication the structure that burned up was one of Steivwright’s.

City spokesperson Brad Ross says there are still 90 of these wooden shelters dotting the parks around Toronto.

“We’re not going to go in and evict somebody from one of these structures,” Ross told 680 NEWS Friday. “But when one of these structures and is abandoned and clearly nobody is using it, the City will make an effort to remove it.”

Last December, Brandon Rowe spoke with Steivwright, who said at the time he was asking for cooperation from city staff who had been instructed to remove the ‘unauthorized’ tiny shelters.

Seivwright has yet to comment on the injunction however, on a gofundme page that was set up to help with construction costs, he said he has stopped building the tiny shelters but would continue to maintain and relocate them. That was posted on February 11 – a day before legal action was commenced by the City.

The City says there have been at least two other fires involving wooden structures – one in December in Moss Park and one last month at Holy Trinity Church.

In 2020, Toronto Fire Services responded to 253 fires in encampments – a 250 percent increase over the same period in 2019. So far this year there have been 27 fires in encampments.

There are now renewed calls for change to the way the City treats homeless residents.

Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker with Sanctuary Ministries Toronto, said many people living outside have nowhere to go.

“This is a huge failure by the city,” Lam said. “These encampments are last resorts, no one is celebrating living outside and this points to the deeper issue of the housing unaffordability crisis.”

The City says it’s taking urgent action on creating and opening affordable homes with support services for those exiting homelessness.

Since mid-December, the City confirmed it has opened 220 affordable, supportive homes at 11 Macey Ave., 321 Dovercourt Rd., and 389 Church Street.