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Winnipeg’s fire rescue house hoping to expand to help displaced families in need

Sixteen people displaced by a fire that started at a neighboring home in the North End Tuesday morning are concerned they’ll soon have nowhere to stay.

It comes as a Winnipeg non-profit that offers fire evacuees temporary housing looks to expand.

The Steve Perchyshyn Fire Rescue House, which opened on Selkirk Avenue in 2009, is so busy it often has to turn people away.

“Every second or third fire we’ll probably get a call just inquiring about the fire rescue house,” said Mark Fleming, executive director of the North End Housing Project, which now runs the unit.

Families pay a small fee, usually around $35 a day, to stay in the home.

The three-bedroom fire rescue house was named after Perchyshyn, a late firefighter who donated a large sum of money to the Firefighters Burn Fund to help create a space for Winnipeggers displaced by fires.

The unit will soon be occupied by a different family affected by another fire, but Fleming said his non-profit is fundraising with the hope of opening additional units.

“It’s unfortunate not everyone can afford tenant insurance so that’s kind of what the fire rescue house was designed for,” Fleming said. “Hopefully we’d like to open a second or third one down the road if funding allows.”

Lillian Catcheway feels more fire rescue units would be a big help to families who find themselves in situations like hers.

Firefighters worked to save a two-and-a-half-storey College Avenue home she rented with 15 other people from a fire that started at a vacant property next door, but the family hasn’t been able to return home.

“I was sleeping and I barely made it out of my room when we passed the kitchen. The window was already cracking,” Lillian said.

Not only did a family have to flee, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said three firefighters were injured fighting the fire. Officials said the heat and humidity on the day of the fire made conditions difficult for crews trying to put it out.

Fire officials said the property Lillian lived in, which the fire spread to, suffered major structural damage to the attic and smoke and water damage throughout.

Lillian, a member of Lake St. Martin First Nation who uses a wheelchair, daughter Shawna Catcheway, husband Louie Pelletier and 13 other family members are now displaced and are concerned they’ll soon have nowhere to go.

“It’s been hard because the wife’s been taking it hard,” Pelletier said. “I’ve been trying to keep strong for her and her kids and I have n’t been at work all week because I lost my house, my clothes, everything. We lost everything.”

The family had recently moved to Winnipeg from Lake St. Martin so Lillian could be closer to health care.

“Everything that we have was in that house,” Shawna said. “We started off again just in December and we’re starting over again today.”

Lillian said no one in the home had tenant insurance and they’re now living in a hotel because they have nowhere else to go.

She said the cost of their rooms is being covered by the Canadian Red Cross but only until Friday.

“My little one there, my granddaughter, keeps asking to go home,” Lillian said. “I keep telling her we don’t have a home. It’s gone.

“I just want a home so I can be out of here.”

The Red Cross said it has been helping the family with food, lodging and other needs under its small-scale disaster program.

The agency said under that program, support is provided to people for the first 72 hours following an incident. After that, it is expected other supports will become available.

Fleming wishes the North End Housing Project (NEHP) could help more fire evacuations.

“Losing everything to a fire’s traumatic enough and not having insurance and finding out that you have to rebuild from scratch is quite traumatizing,” Fleming said. “What we hope this offers people is an opportunity to kind of catch their breath, figure out their next steps without having to worry about a roof over their head for a bit.”

The NEHP said it’s fundraising by holding poker nights Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 pm at Flea Whiskey’s at 601 Erin St.

The cause of the initial fire on College Avenue remains under investigation.

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