The residents who lost their homes in the three-alarm Smith Avenue fire almost two weeks ago have now found a place to stay, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Burnaby agencies.
On Feb. 17 a fire consumed the four-storey apartment complex at 3526 Smith Ave., leaving more than 70 residents who lived in the 50-year-old building homeless and with next to nothing in their pockets.
The concerted efforts of agencies across Burnaby played a major role in aiding the displaced locals in such a short time after the fire, according to Charmaigne Pflugrath, the City of Burnaby's emergency program coordinator.
The Red Cross, Progressive Housing Society, Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness, the Burnaby emergency support services team and the Salvation Army worked together in receiving donations of household items and cash from the public, and were the first point of contact for many of the victims.
"Everyone who was displaced has at least found long-term or short-term placement," Pflugrath said in a phone interview. "It's been very encouraging to see, considering the devastation that occurred because of the fire."
Those who have short-term placement are still working with the Progressive Housing Society to find something for the long term, according to Pflugrath.
Teachers from Cascade Heights Elementary and the outpouring from the residents in Burnaby and across the Lower Mainland were a big help for the displaced fire victims, she said.
"The Red Cross is down to only 12 cases with minor issues," she said. "Minor such as replacing glasses, but also providing emotional support for the residents as required."
The Salvation Army has 17 open files still to place those who have not found stable housing, according to Gord Armstrong, the Salvation Army's deputy director of emergency services.
"We have one case where the people are paying $80 more than they make a month," he said. "So we're still finding places."
Armstrong has been working with the fire victims since the beginning, and he says small issues such as that are keeping some cases ongoing.
The Salvation Army's recovery centre on Nelson Avenue is now closed, but people can still make appointments to pick up clothing, household items or other necessities.
On Friday, Armstrong said his organization will be picking up a large clothing donation from Metrotown Centre, which should cover them for clothes.
"The corporate and local residents have been so awesome through this," Armstrong said. "Right now, I'm looking at tables, chairs, dining tables and even a China cabinet that have all been donated."
But, there is a shortage of space at their warehouse as many of these items eat it up, Armstrong said.
"That's why we ask for money so we can buy new beds, which we don't get out of our (Salvation Army) stores," he added. "The manufacturers make them for us."
Armstrong says they have not received enough cash donations yet to help all the victims from the Smith Avenue fire.
He said the greatest challenge was to find affordable housing for a larger number of people within the 72 hours of emergency help provided by the province.
"There's not a whole lot of housing that's available around the Lower Mainland," Armstrong said. "As good as the B.C. Housing Agency and other housing agencies are, they can't pull houses out of a hat. They haven't learned that trick yet."
This week, the Burnaby Board of Trade put out a letter to its members asking for support by way of cash donations or providing notary services.
"It's been fantastic to see how the business community has responded here," said Paul Holden, the board's president and CEO. "Anything from cash donations to the Salvation Army, to a number of our members doing notarizing free of charge, to people taking around food hampers."
Holden said many businesses sent out his letter to employees, or posted it somewhere to see for clients as well in order to spread the word for those in need.
"What this shows is the tremendous community spirit that Burnaby businesses have," Holden said. "When something devastating happens it's rewarding to see how instantly this community steps up.
"We know there will be a continued need of support and we'll be there to help these families rebuild their lives."
The Salvation Army is still calling for cash donations, which can be made by contacting 604-299-3908. Those who can provide a notary service to help some residents with their identification applications can contact MLA Kathy Corrigan's office at 604-775-2414.
Also, the Burnaby Task Force on Homelessness is currently helping those in need of finding long-term affordable housing. If anyone has an affordable place to rent in the city, contact Wanda Mulholland, the task force's community development coordinator, at 604-317-8114.
Mulholland said so far the community has been very supportive during this situation.
"The huge outpouring from the many generous citizens was really nice to see," she said.
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