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Solutions sought for tenants

Tenants of the Three Gables building on Martin Street are still coming to  terms with being ordered to leave the location by Friday afternoon.

Some were starting to remove belongings from the Penticton building on Thursday morning, while others met with friends in the parking lot to figure out what to do next.

"This is one big mess, is what it is," said resident Ernie Popoff, as he carried pictures off to the pawn shop. "I feel like a piece of garbage, and I don't know where to go."

The people who reside there were given 48 hour notice by the fire department on Wednesday afternoon. Notice was also given to the owner of the building.

The evacuation order, which came from the Office of the Fire Commissioner, is directly related to a concern about public safety, Fire Chief Wayne Williams said Wednesday, with the first priority being the safety of the residents.

Inspections there over the years have revealed deficiences including problems with fire separations,, inadequate fire alarm systems and impeded exits.

The owner has been asked several times in the past to make the building safe, but requests were ignored.

The owner could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

RCMP Cpl. Martin Trudeau said the RCMP have been called out to the location on different occasions. He too described the building as unlivable, with the bulk of the responsibility for upkeep falling on the owner.

He didn't want to paint everyone there with the same brush, but based on his experiences most of the people living there have limited funds and face challenges from addiction to mental health issues. Like others, he was concerned about what will happen to them.

"You have someone who is low income with a pet, with possible mental health issues or addiction, where is there a place for them to go," he said.

Options were provided to residents when the notices went out, ranging from going to the Kelowna Gospel Mission to Cheers the Church in Penticton. The South Okanagan Brain Injury Society, which has a homeless outreach program, also provided a list of several potential landlords.

Linda Sankey, executive director of the society, said they are currently focused on short term aid.

"The bulk of our effort is the immediate," she said.

Currently, their outreach worker has connected with each of the residents, some of whom the society already has a relationship with.

There are also others they haven't met before, and they are finding out what their issues are and taking that into consideration.

One of the things they are now working on is setting up a short term shelter with a local church.

They will then work with each person to provide other options for them.

"When these things happen, it's often without much notice," said Sankey. "So we are trying to work collaboratively with other agencies to come up with solutions for those displaced."

While the agencies search for solutions, residents of the building and their acquaintances are doing the same.

One friend suggested that the city could perhaps step in and provide the tenants with a motel room for 30 days or until they have a place to live.

"This is a retirement community and at the same time a tourist town, and this doesn't look good," he said. "The city should step up and show good will."

Communications officer Simone Blais said housing isn't an area of city expertise and it is recommended the residents contact the outreach worker from the brain injury society. Her number is on the evacuation notice posted on a building door.

Some tenants say they are aware the help is available, but are still stunned this is happening to them.

"A lot of the people here are struggling with drug and alcohol abuse and disabilities, so it's going to be really hard for them," said a man, who gave his name as Al. "I for one am on social assistance, and where is the money going to come from for me to move anywhere."

The original Three Gables Hotel was destroyed by fire in 2000. The building in question is a wing that survived the blaze.

It also houses a liquor store on the first floor, which is excluded from the order.

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