By Joe Fries and Mark Brett
Western News Staff
Seventeen residents of the Three Gables Hotel have until Friday afternoon to find new homes, after safety concerns prompted the B.C. Fire Commissioner to issue a 48-hour evacuation order for the downtown Penticton building.
“We have tried to work with the owner and he has just not complied with any of our deficiency requests and this was our final step,” Penticton fire chief Wayne Williams told reporters Wednesday.
He explained that monthly inspections of the Martin Street low-income hotel consistently turned up multiple fire hazards, such as broken alarms and insufficient — or missing — fire doors on the dozen units inside.
“That was the biggest concern, I think, were those doors and the fast spread of a fire should a fire occur in there,” Williams said.
“Even when we were over there today, some of the units are protected by a piece of plywood, instead of a door, that’s just nailed on, which people can just pull off and live in the unit.”
The chief said residents will receive a package with information about social services that are available to them, including bus tickets and beds at a homeless shelter in Kelowna.
“Our first priority is the security of the residents, and this was done to protect their safety,” Williams added.
He said “extensive work” would be required to bring the building up to code by Friday afternoon. So it’s unlikely the order will be lifted.
Raj Singh, a representative of property owner Harbans Randhawa, said they are considering a plan to renovate and upgrade the building, and will provide further comment after the evacuation.
The hotel was long an important part of the downtown Penticton business community until a large portion of it was destroyed by fire in 2000.
It fell into disrepair afterwards and the second floor of what remains of the structure was converted into long-term, low-income housing.
A liquor store at street level is not affected by the evacuation order.
After hearing about the evacuation order, Dave Charette, 79, quickly went to see his 40-year-old son who was still living in one of the upstairs units with his wife.
“This used to be a really nice place but then it just sort of all went to hell. I was here for about 10 years and I really liked living here,” said Charette as he sat on the steep metal stairs leading up to the units.
“I don’t know what happened, it just seemed like a lot really bad people moved in and there were fights and drugs, crack, and all that stuff and nobody seemed to do anything about it.”
Charette moved out about a year ago, in part because of the on-going problems and also his physical disabilities which made it increasingly difficult to get up and down the stairs.
His son and daughter-in-law have since managed to find other lodgings.
Another man, who did not want to be identified, also went to the Three Gables that day where his sister was gathering her things together in preparation to leave.
“It’s just terrible there and dangerous,” he said. “There are fights all the time and mould everywhere. She’s found someplace else to go. That’s a really good thing for her.”
Cpl. Martin Trudeau, a spokesman for the Penticton RCMP, said the Three Gables is a frequent stop for officers.
“The residents and the clientele living in that building typically have very limited financial funds to rely upon. Some suffer from health issues, some may have mental health (concerns), some are probably fighting addictions as well, so this type of clientele will bring different kinds of problems: disturbances and those type of things,” he said.
“It’s a place we did go often, but on Wednesday the residents we dealt with were 100 per cent co-operative with us.”
In advance of delivering the order, Williams said a number of agencies, including the South Okanagan Similkameen Brain Injury Society and the Kelowna Gospel Mission were contacted about emergency shelter for those unable to find alternate accommodations in the limited time frame.