Newly homeless lean on disaster relief workers in aftermath
As stunned people stood in their sleeping clothes along Somerset Street West yesterday, watching a massive blaze that destroyed their homes, there were others that ignored the spectacle of the fire.
Instead, the members of the Salvation Army and Red Cross Personal Disaster program moved among the victims, offering them the first of the assistance the newly homeless will need for some time to come.
“We wanted to make sure we found all of the victims that were involved,” said Tom Sidney, co-ordinator with the Salvation Army. “People were shocked and watching what was going on, but they were on different streets.”
The program routinely assists victims of fires in Ottawa, but rarely 31 at once. That is the number of people who were left homeless by yesterday’s blaze.
Volunteers led victims to a waiting OC Transpo bus and conducted a needs assessment to determine if anyone required medication, and to begin the process of getting victims fed and properly clothed.
“It was a lot of emotional people watching their lives burn up,” said George Dicker, co-ordinator for the Red Cross. “Some people are very discouraged. They feel that they just got their life going, and then something happens to knock them back down.”
Sidney said the Salvation Army opened one of its stores at 5 a.m. yesterday morning to find people clothing to wear for the day.
The Red Cross found lodging for 16 individuals at the downtown Lord Elgin Hotel, but Alistair Hensler, with Red Cross disaster management, said that number could grow.
“We will be in touch with them and make sure they get pointed in the right direction and get the help they need,” he said.
Given the size of the fire, the support work went smoothly, said Sidney.