Sheila Scotton (right) sits with a Carnegie Outreach staffer.

Balmoral Hotel residents safely evacuated with VCH’s help

As of Tuesday night all ~150 residents have been moved out of the dilapidated Balmoral Hotel SRO and into new homes.

The privately owned SRO was built in 1908 and is in desperate need of numerous repairs before it can be considered safe to live in again. The City of Vancouver’s decision to evacuate the building was based on assessment and recommendations of structural engineers and building code consultants that cited significant life safety risks to occupants of the building.

You’ve likely heard stories in the media about this building and its notorious owners, the Sahota Family, over the past few weeks, but the story you haven’t heard is the incredibly professional and heart-warming teamwork that took place behind the scenes to safely and respectfully move these tenants. Vancouver Community staff worked closely with City of Vancouver, BC Housing, VPD and non-profits to understand each tenants’ needs, come up with an alternate housing plan, move their belongings and transfer their services. Staff were in the DTES neighbourhood daily and available on the weekend, leading up to the evacuation deadline. Many of the tenants are active VCH clients and some have complex health and social needs, with substance use and chronic illness being quite prevalent. A high proportion of the tenants have been long-time residents of the DTES so relocation efforts focused on keeping those connections.

City of Vancouver thanks VCH staff

The City of Vancouver sent media an update regarding the evacuation and thanked VCH staff for supporting the moves. VCH’s Sheila Scotton spent countless hours ‘quarterbacking’ the VCH response, and several VCH and PHC teams were pivotal in supporting people through  this very unfortunate situation. There were many staff who stepped up indicating their willingness to help in whatever way was needed. Staff worked long hours and came in over the weekend, before the Monday evacuation deadline, to support tenants. This involved being positioned wherever there was a need and doing whatever was required to support the relocation. Interim Director Jackie Cardwell and Director Bonnie Wilson want to thank Sheila, all front line staff, as well as the many Vancouver Community managers who came together and offered their support over the past weeks.

“We had the opportunity to visit the site and see first hand the efforts of those coordinating the activity and were amazed by the collaboration, partnerships and commitment on the part of those involved in achieving the best immediate outcome possible,” says Jackie. “There is a lot to learn from this event and we will debrief with the involved agencies in order to better understand our opportunities in future.”

While we can all agree that this was a very stressful situation for the tenants involved, it came with a couple of silver linings. The tenants ended up with better housing, and VCH came away with stronger partnerships and relationships with the agencies involved in this response.

Next steps

The City’s Chief Building Official has ordered the owners to install temporary shoring inside the building to mitigate the serious structural deficiencies that necessitated the evacuation. That order establishes a deadline of July 14 for that work and City inspectors will be monitoring compliance.

VCH staff are continuing to check in on residents to ensure they have their prescriptions, health equipment and health needs met.

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