The carpenter who built tiny shelters for unhoused people, before the City of Toronto filed a court injunction for him to stop, has launched another project that will contribute to supporting those living outside.
In late 2020, Khaleel Seivwright created Toronto Tiny Shelters, building small, insulated dwellings meant to keep people living outside warm through the winter. The city considered it illegal dumping of wooden shelters on city-owned property and also cited safety concerns regarding the structures in the court application against him.
In a settlement with the city, Seivwright agreed his program would not continue in the same way and acquiesced to not placing any more structures on city property without permission or maintaining existing ones.
Since then, Seivwright has been silent on the Toronto Tiny Shelters Instagram page, previously used for raising funds and awareness. Late last month, he returned to the page to announce a new project in collaboration with a few of the people that helped build the tiny shelters.
“We’re building very well insulated lightweight camper trailers for anyone that would like one for as low as a price that we can do it for,” Seivwright tells CityNews.
He says the new venture, called Fat Drop Trailers, aims to give people a very affordable option to purchase convenient campers, without the need for a pickup truck to use them.
“We’d be trying to build something that’s under 1,300 pounds that any SUV could tow. So it’s going to be very readily available for someone that doesn’t have, or is not interested in buying a new vehicle just to be able to [tow a camper],” he explains.
In addition, Seivwright says the trailers can be used for longer term camping.
“This is maybe less common, but maybe it’s an opportunity for someone to have something that they can actually use and live out of to visit more long-term living situations in different places, like intentional communities. I’ve done this myself and I think it’s a really cool way to exist for extremely cheap and just learn lots of new skills and meet people,” he says.
Fat Drop Trailers is currently fundraising, with an initial goal of $100,000 to pay for materials, staff and a permanent workshop space. Thereafter, Seivwright hopes it will become a self-sustaining business.
“It’s not just – ‘alright, we’re gonna start doing this project until we run out of money.’ The idea is to create a project that’s continuous, that’s able to maintain itself and able to also support other projects,” he says.
A prototype has already been built and he’s aiming to finalize the design and price by mid-July. The blue prints for the camper will be made public, so anyone who wants to can build one themselves.
Seivwright has also picked a unique initiative to contribute the funds from sales.
“I was planning on paying for the staff, paying for the space and the materials and then after that we’d be donating our profits to A Better Tent City.”
A Better Tent City (ABTC) is a community-run project in Kitchener that houses about 50 residents in 40 small, insulated cabins on a dedicated plot of land with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities for those living on site. It began as a volunteer-run initiative that has now grown into a non-profit organization that has both volunteers and some paid staff.
“For people whose lives have been completely sidetracked by mental illness and drug addiction, they have run out of options and A Better Tent City provides a good option for them,” explains volunteer and board chair Jeff Willmer. “They’re no longer trespassing because they have a property where they’re welcome. They now have the stability of a house of their own and a community and so this has really given them a step up.”
Willmer explains that the concept originated with the late Ron Doyle who had the idea for a community of tiny homes for people who were living rough outside. He owned an event space on industrial land that was lying empty during the pandemic and offered it up as the first location of ABTC, which has since moved to city-owned land after Doyle’s passing.
The first residents of ABTC were a group of unhoused people who were being sheltered nightly by local business owner Nadine Green in her convenience store. Willmer says Green also moved into the ABTC community and continues to serve as a mother figure who “helps keep everything calm and stable.”
ABTC has the support of several community partners and businesses. The city of Kitchener and the Region of Waterloo have also embraced the project, providing water and sanitation services as well as allowing free use of the land.
Seivwright says he greatly admires what A Better Tent City has built and initiatives like it need more support and encouragement.
“I really like what they’re doing and I think the model that they’re operating with – of not treating people as if they’re prisoners … but treating them with respect and giving them autonomy – I think that model really encourages self-respect and self-confidence … and it’s stable, you’re able to stay there for a consistent amount of time,” he says.
Willmer says they are excited about the opportunity to possibly collaborate with Seivwright.
“I think he’s got some great ideas and we’ve got a model that seems to be working. Maybe by working together we can adapt it and help make something that can work in other communities,” he says.
Seivwright says he hopes to see similar projects like ABTC that work with the municipal government in Toronto and he’d like to donate profits from his new business to any such initiatives in the city.
“I think there’s quite a few vacant spaces where it could work for sure – it’s just getting the willingness of city council and finding people that are willing to participate.”