Two weeks after a fire ripped through an apartment in Port Hardy, the six families still looking for new homes are drawing attention to the housing shortage on the North Island.
Residents fled from smoke and flames late on Jan. 17, some dropping out of windows in their panic in the middle of the night. The hallway was destroyed, and suites have varying levels of smoke and water damage. Some first-floor apartments are almost cleared for re-entry, but most tenants of the 15-unit building need new homes.
Latoya Wiks lived on the ground floor with her partner, James Charlie, and their five young children. She was recovering from a cesarean section three weeks earlier when their youngest son Tobias was born. When the alarm went off, Charlie went to check if it was a real fire and not a prank. He heard someone yelling, “It’s real, it’s real, there’s a fire!”
He ran to wake the kids, groggy with sleep, while Wiks gathered things for the baby. Wiks threw the dog on the stroller and handed the guinea pig to her oldest daughter. They went through the now familiar drill of making sure everyone had jackets and shoes.
“As soon as we got outside, boom, we see someone drop. I’m freaking out, my kids are screaming.”
Another person was lying in the wet grass with a broken leg.
“My three-year-old was just screaming and shaking, his eyes were huge.”
The family of seven has been living in a two-bed hotel room since the fire, grateful for the help from Emergency B.C., but not sure how long it will last. So far they’ve had no luck finding a new home.
Selenia in her nook under the "kitchen table." Normal food and school snacks have been one of the biggest challenges in living at a hotel, Laytoya Wiks said. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
There’s scant availability in Port Hardy on a good day, never mind when a dozen families are looking at the same time.
Three-and-a-half years ago, a fire at Creekside Apartments displaced 65 people, who struggled for months to find stable homes. In ironic timing, Creekside re-opened for tenants days before the fire at Town Park. The new owners say they received 200 applications for the 23 spaces.
Charlie, a member of Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw, has applied for housing on the Tsulquate reserve, but the list of applicants ahead of them is about 25 families long, the band housing administrator said. The Tsulquate reserve there are two transition houses for emergency situations, but they’re both occupied right now.
It’s frustrating for Wiks, who’s Kwakiutl, that even in an emergency neither band have been able to help house their family.
“I was crying, practically begging them, like please, this is embarrassing, we’re living in a hotel after a fire.”
Five-week-old Tobias is lost in his dad's gaze. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
On top of finding a new home, they’ll have to replace much of their furniture. Anything porous, like beds, couches, desks, chairs and even toys, have been ruined by chemicals in the smoke, they’ve been told.
Four-year-old Selenia describes in detail a toy playpen and stroller for her dolls that she got for Christmas. It’s one of the things ruined in the fire. The kids have been given new toys, which they’re all grateful for, but they still keep asking when they can go home.
The seven of them have made life in the hotel room as normal as possible. Wiks established a separate nook for each of their clothes, and a box for small toys. Eight-year-old Lila and six-year-old Lazarus are still in school as Selenia sets up her toys under a side table that serves as a kitchen counter. She fits cozily in the cranny.
Novah, who just turned three, has made himself and his toys at home. The three-inch ledge atop the bed frames are home to small dinosaurs — “doh-do-dos” — and action figures, precisely stationed.
Baby Tobias is healthy and happy, gazing fixedly into his dad’s eyes, unaware that anything’s amiss.
The Charlie-Wiks' have made life in the hotel as normal as possible, but it's stressful to say the least. Their oldest child was still at school when this photo was taken. Left to right: Lazarus (6), James Charlie, Novah (3), Selenia (4), Latoya Wiks and Tobias (five weeks). (Zoe Ducklow photo))
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