A month after a suspected arson forced the evacuation of the north building of Forest View Suites on Princeton Drive and a subsequent inspection by the fire department led to it being deemed unsafe for occupation, the repercussions continue for the former residents and the city.
“With the fire we’ve acquired some homeless individuals at the shelter now so now we’re over capacity again,” said Thompson Homeless Shelter executive director Paullette Simkins at the Oct. 10 public safety committee meeting, noting that there are only 24 sleeping mats available. “The ones that don’t get a mat we are just sitting on the floor.”
Simkins also said that homeless people in general, not just those displaced by the fire, sometimes can’t submit applications to find a place to live.
“Fro some reason [landlords are] having a problem accepting someone who’s on EIA [Employment and Income Assistance],” she said, as opposed to having a job or collecting Canada Pension Plan benefits. Applicants without any housing history often need co-signers as well.
Coun.Les Ellsworth said at the meeting that accommodations at the YWCA were also full.
Fire and public safety director Mike Bourgon said Thompson Fire & Emergency Services were dealing with fewer calls to Forest View Suites now that one building is unoccupied but that he didn’t expect the overall number of calls for service would go down, even though the north tower accounted for about 25 per cent of the calls the department responded to over the first nine months of the year.
“The people that were there pulling the alarms and setting off the extinguishers, they’ve moved somewhere else," Bourgon said.
Former north tower resident Cara Gulick, who appeared before Thompson city council Sept. 30 seeking help for those displaced by the fire, said as of Oct. 22 that she still hadn’t received her security deposit or last week’s rent for September back from Armour Management, the company that manages Forest View Suites, which were taken over by a receiver in July because the owners, Polar Bear Properties Ltd., were unable to make payments on more than $23 million they owe to RBC. Gulick says that Armour Management told her she owes them money.
“I always paid my rent before the first of the month every month for over three years,” Gulick said. “And no major damage as I don’t drink, don’t party. It was just myself and my kids.”
She is not confident that she will ever see her damage deposit.
“If they’re not paying their other bills how are we getting our money back?”
Gulick had six hours on Thanksgiving weekend to retrieve belongings from her apartment and has been promised another three, though she hadn’t been given them as of Oct. 22. She says she only got an additional six hours because she went to the Residential Tenancies Branch. She also said people moving stuff out on Thanksgiving weekend were told they couldn’t use the back door into the parking lot.
“They said it was because of the city,” says Gulick. “We had to haul everything down the stairs [onto the sidewalk on Princeton Drive].”
Armour Management has not yet responded to an inquiry from the Nickel Belt News about whether damage deposits have been returned or if money is available to return them.
Finding a new apartment is difficult, not only because of a lack of affordable housing, but also because some landlords don’t want former tenants of the north tower moving in.
“We’re all being lumped into one and it makes things harder,” Gulick said. “I wasn’t even one of the bad tenants. I was one of the good ones.”
She said Manitoba Housing has said it would be faster to find apartments through them in Winnipeg, Portage or Brandon.
Gulick now has plans to move in with a friend but says she will have to sell or give away some of her belongings because she won't have room for them.
“I’m going to have to start completely over,” she says. “It’s ben a nightmare, this whole thing. I don’t have a home to cook a meal for my family in. It’s not fun to lose your home.”