Spence Neighborhood Association rallies community to help West End fire victims

Cortney Sinclair of the Spence Neighbourhood Association says former tenants of 577 Sherbrook St. were without fire insurance, and some have struggled to find temporary housing since a fire destroyed the building in mid-January. Jenna Friesen

The Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA) has launched an appeal for donations for some 50 West End residents left with nothing following a $1-million fire that broke out in a Sherbrook Street apartment block last month.

“We just decided to meet with other staff and collect donations for people,” said Cortney Sinclair, a staff member at the SNA. “They were in our community and there wasn’t really anything happening with organizations that exist.”

The fire broke Jan. 16 at 577 Sherbrook St. Police have since charged two men and one male youth with arson.

Still, many of the former tenants were without fire insurance, and some have struggled to find temporary housing since, the SNA said.

The SNA is collecting everything from clean clothing to bedding, food, household items and financial support.

Sinclair said an email was sent out to recruit other organizations to collect items. The SNA building – a few offices and a reception area – wouldn’t be large enough to handle many donations, she said.

“We’ve just been kind of networking all along together,” Sinclair said. “We at SNA don’t have the space base to collect everything, so what we did is we branched out and asked other neighbouring organizations if … they could help in storing items.

“From there, we just started getting a swamp of phone calls, and the response… has kept us busy ever since,” Sinclair said.

There are several organizations storing donations, as well as some individual Winnipeggers who have volunteered to store items in their homes.

About half of the families displaced by the fire have found housing while some others are still waiting for government help, Sinclair said.

SNA is also helping displaced residents replace basic IDs that were lost in the fire.

“It was kind of just thrown together,” she said. “It was just kind of something that we didn’t really have a plan set for but we just immediately started figuring out as we went along.”

The lot at 577 Sherbrook St. is now a few piles of debris. Even the buildings next to it are empty.

Two neighbouring apartments, Sun Vue and Sterling Apts, also endured some smoke damage. Both buildings appeared to be empty but Sterling Apts had a sign indicating that construction was underway.

Marouane Gharbi, working the evening shift as the security guard at Sterling Apts, hadn’t seen many of the residents.

“They took their things a while ago,” he said. “Just construction now.”

He thought the construction would last another two weeks.

Gharbi didn’t know where the residents were living now.

“They always send them to hotels,” he said. “They always send them somewhere safe.”

For more information, visit www.sherbrookfirevictims.ca, or call Sinclair at 783-4141.

Published in Volume 66, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 8, 2012)

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