Vancouver fire: Homes are being prepared for displaced residents

Residents who lost everything when the fire broke out through the Winters Hotel in Gastown on Monday are spending the long Easter weekend in emergency shelters, but it is hoped they will be set up in new homes by Tuesday.

Throughout the week, contractors have been working around the clock to get the old Columbia Hotel ready. The building was formerly used as a hostel, and Atira CEO Janice Abbott said her organization bought it in early March.

“We had plans to house women and women-led couples in this building, and we had kind of thought we would move people into July,” Abbott said. Then the fire happened.

The building has about 70 rooms – some are self-contained with kitchen appliances and bathrooms, others require shared facilities. CTV News was given a tour of the building on Friday while crews were still repairing wires and other facilities.

“We have had the elevator serviced and made sure it is in working order, and so is the boiler,” Abbott said, adding that most of the sprinkler heads also needed to be replaced because it had been “accidentally” painted over by the previous owner.

The building is large enough to house all 71 residents who stayed at the Winters Hotel. Abbott said some are couples, so there will also be room for other people waiting for housing.

More than 70 people also lived nearby in the Gastown Hotel, another single-room hotel. These residents live either in shelters or with friends and family.

Abbott said the building has smoke damage, but believes residents should be able to return at some point.

“Understandably, the city of Vancouver is reluctant to have the Gastown Hotel repopulated until Winters’ demolition is complete, just in case something goes wrong with the demolition,” she said.

The City of Vancouver is expected to provide an update on Tuesday that will include a timeline for the demolition of the building will be carried out.

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