The Number of Victims of the Wellington Street Apartment Fire In Port Hope Was a First For Salvation Army

In Community, Editor Choice, Local, News

The effects of the apartment fire in Port Hope was something the local Salvation Army has never dealt with before.
On May 17 a fire ravaged an apartment on Wellington Street in Port Hope. Thankfully no one was injured but all tenants living in the building were displaced.
Members of the Port Hope Police worked along side representatives from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office determined the fire origin was electrical.
Just days after the fire a benefit concert was held in Memorial Park raising funds for the victims of the fire.
Captains Michael and Carolyn Simpson of Port Hope and Cobourg spoke in depth about the role The Salvation Army has played since shortly after the flames were extinguished.
People living in 24-units of the apartment building were displaced as a result of the fire.
Four out of those had content insurance but the rest lost almost everything they had with no coverage.
The number fluctuates, but The Salvation Army is dealing with approximately 50 people as a result of the fire.
Two households who had been living in the apartment building have found housing, two more are currently preparing to move into housing, four households are currently in hotels, and the rest are with family and friends all over Ontario, including Toronto, Havelock, and Brampton.
The families living in hotels pay what they would normally pat if they had been living in their Wellington Street apartment and the Salvation Army covers the rest.  Typically that amounts to upwards of $1,500-2,000 a month.
Captain Carolyn Simpson said, “Our main focus now is the housing piece. Moving those four families that are in hotels into a home.’
Starting as of June 20, the victims of the fire are receiving a $300 gift card as well as a detailed letter with information on the available supports and resources from The Salvation Army and other programs in the community.
“There is also the issue of assessing now what needs to happening,” said Simpson.  “We’ve met the crisis, addressed the emergency, and are managing the donations coming in but now we’re trying to find out what people need now.”
“In addition to providing each household with a $300 gift card, this gives us the opportunity to connect with them and identify what else can we do to help.”
To date, The Salvation Army has received $32,615.20 and dispersed close to $21,000, of which approximately $11,000 was for rent including hotels.
With so many people needing help at once because of the fire it’s something the local Salvation Army has never had to deal with.
“Our budget for the entire year doesn’t include something as major as the fire.  That’s why all those donations were so important,” said Carolyn Simpson.
“We have to evaluate every situation individually. Somebody might need assistance with medical needs, but another family doesn’t need that.  They may need toys for their kids.  Someone may need help with gas money because they are now outside of Port Hope where someone else who is staying in Port Hope may not need gas money.  Every situation is different.”
“We’ve never had a catastrophe of this magnitude.” said Simpson.
If the Salvation Army had to absorb it relying on what they currently have, other programs would suffer throughout the year.
“There are only so many dollars that can go so far.  By the time December hits and we are helping 700 families, there would be nothing left,” said Captain Michael Simpson.
“In an emergency, making sure individuals and families are safe, sheltered, have food and clothes to wear is the priority.”
While those needs were met and still are currently being looked after, the state of housing in the area means this is an ongoing challenge.
When any of the displaced victims of the fire have found a place to live, The Salvation Army has already made arrangements with the Northumberland County Moving Company so that they can simply call to plan for their move. They will be given a quote which will be paid for directly by the Salvation Army.
“They are giving it to us at a reduced rate,” said Michael Simpson “which makes dollars go further. They are being flexible to accommodate multiple pick up locations so that they can accomplish the move.”
The Salvation Army is extremely grateful for the donations from the community since the fire in May.
“We have 2,400 square feet full of furniture, house wares, linens, toys, everything they need,” said Carolyn Simpson.
In fact, they are at capacity.
“If people call and say they have something we ask them if they could hold onto it because we only have our current space for the next six weeks.  The possibility exists we would have to move it all again which would not be ideal.”
The victims of the fire are allowed to have any of the donations and when they find housing, Northumberland County Moving will deliver the larger items.
“Some of these victims are children and they’ve been through a trauma, now staying with friends or other family members or in a hotel,” said Mike Simpson.
“If we can put a smile on a kids face with a new toy, that also puts a smile the parents face and alleviates some of those stresses.”
The Salvation Army also has a extensive supply of items in Toronto including toys.
The first crisis The Salvation Army had to deal with was the amount of victims, but the second crisis was the volume of donations.
“We asked victims to contact us with their specific needs.  Few did that. Which makes it harder,” said Carolyn Simpson.
On top of that, the original space for donations was only available until June 11.
After trying to find a space, The Salvation Army called the Mayor’s office.
“We were desperate.  It was Thursday, we need to be out by Monday.”
“They made some calls on our behalf and got us a new space which was beautiful, but then we have 2,400 square feet of stuff to move and how do you do that?”
Northumberland County Moving arrived and spent the entire day moving items from one storage area to another.
“That’s why it’s a little hard after the fire and the fundraiser and the misunderstanding surrounding that,” said Carolyn Simpson.
“When you’re paying $2,000 for a hotel in addition to their moving costs and $300 gift card, they are getting a much larger value then if we had been able to take $23,000 and divide it by 24.”  
“If we had done that it would have been just over $800.”
Michael Simpson said it was unfortunate the comments on social media.
“Some of the comments stating they weren’t going to donate to the Salvation Army. We’re not a business.  It doesn’t hurt us, it just limits what we can do for the community.  We simply facilitate help for the community in the best way we can.  It’s about helping us help others.”

Click below to view Letter for Fire Evacuees

Letter for Fire Evacuees

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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