Michaels: Fire hit financially strapped victims hardest

Walnut Grove residents may suffer most from fire

Charred timber and sodden remnants of household items are all that remain of 10 units at Kelowna’s Walnut Grove motel.

Any day now, a demolition crew will tear down the worst of the damage, which will spark more than a construction boom.

The change will further deplete this city’s supply of affordable housing.

Affordable housing, and the utter dearth of it, is one of Kelowna’s longest running conversations. When I was a younger woman, I was the one shaking my fist at the sky complaining about living in a one-bedroom dump for $800 a month that I searched high and low to find.

Now that I’m no longer in the realm of young Kelowna, there are others to take the charge and they’re facing even worse.

In fact, if the reporter in the desk next to me is any indication, it’s now the norm to move into a house with five strangers to simply afford keeping a roof over one’s head.

There are more stories in this city, too. Stories of seniors who are unsure how to make do on a fixed income.

There are men and women who are on disability and can’t find a home that works for them.

Some of these stories have come to a happy resolution at Walnut Grove, an oasis of affordability in an increasingly posh neighbourhood.

Though I haven’t spoken with her myself, I’ve been told there’s a blind senior who has lived in the motel for decades, with her rent frozen somewhere in the ‘90s.

Another woman I spoke with has a series of health issues that make life difficult to navigate and work impossible.

A young couple with two children below the age of four have found a home there.

And there are others who simply don’t want to spend their entire paycheques on a rental. Some who see quality of life as something more than a good address.

For many, it’s still not a cheap place to live, but the only way to keep a roof over their heads, which means they didn’t have a lot to spare from month to month. It explains why many residents didn’t have renter’s insurance.

Saturday’s Truswell road fire has put dozens of people in search of housing, but even the residents of the Waters Edge condominium — who also are out of home —realize that it’s the residents of Walnut Grove who may suffer the most in the days ahead.

“When I saw one of the young men who lost his home, we didn’t even speak, but it made me want to cry,” said one woman who is out of her neighbouring condo for anywhere from one to three years.

“I didn’t even speak to him, but I could tell … he has nothing left. We’ll all be fine… I don’t know about him.”

In addition to financial means, the community has rallied around the residents of the Waters Edge and that’s wonderful.

Let’s hope there are a few people out there willing to rally around these men and women at Walnut Grove. This isn’t an easy city to find a rental, and it’s even harder if you’re not well off.

And everyone in this community deserves to have more to their name than charred remains and sodden remnants.

Knowing these people have found a safe place to live would mean this community is actually worth the high pricetag that comes with living here.

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