Statement For Release
Atira Women’s Resource Society
Coroner’s Inquest, Winters Residence
January 22, 2024
We are relieved that the Coroner’s Inquest has begun and look forward to the findings that lead to higher health, safety and security in the supportive housing sector.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Ms. Garlow and Mr. Guay as well as the former tenants and the community, who continue to remember and grieve for those lost. This was a tragedy that has left its mark on the tenants, the community and the entire team at Atira who support them.
We acknowledge that as beneficial as the inquest is, it is also retraumatizing. We will continue to offer support and counselling to those impacted. We look forward to the final report and recommendations. We recognize how important it is to provide a comprehensive response at that time.
There are a lot of perceptions about what happened in early April 2022 between the two fires that occurred at the Winters Residence, an SRO in the downtown east side. We look forward to the final coroner’s report setting the record straight on the facts, so we all can take the necessary actions going forward to improve safety and provide clarity for everyone.
Immediately after the fire, residents were offered counselling, support and were temporarily housed nearby at other locations. Two weeks later, Tawow (formerly the Columbia Hotel), was opened by Atira to receive all tenants of the Winters Residence of which 90 per cent relocated.
Atira have worked hard with its partners over the last two years to ensure this never happens again and continues to support the tenants.
There is still considerable work to be done with BC Housing to support the building and safety upgrades that are desperately needed to provide safe and appropriate housing for this community. As an operator of this housing, much of which is over 100 years old, Atira has the data to show that maintenance and repair is a continuous and ongoing challenge given the age of these buildings.
We expect one of the findings of the Coroner’s Inquest will be about the level of funding provided by BC Housing to operate SROs safely.
Housing operators like Atira believe that when there is a commitment by government to fund supportive social housing to the level that guarantees safety, that this would be an investment in the future.
Below is a full list of actions Atira has taken to date related to the Winters Residence fire:
· Established an external Safety Task Force that conducts monthly inspections in all the all-gender SROs. Any findings from these reports are immediately actioned by the Operations team and our Health and Safety Team. This task force is led by a current inspector from the Richmond Fire Department who previously was a Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) inspector.
· Continues to hold education sessions for staff and tenants on fire safety in partnership with VFRS’s Community Safety and Public Education Division.
· Meets monthly with the VFRS Deputy Chief and Assistant Chief to share and review monthly data to identify ways to collaborate to further enhance tenant safety in the buildings.
· Conducts daily rounds by staff to monitor for potential fire-related issues and complete monthly health and safety inspections.
· Continuing to use a third-party company that is responsible for regular maintenance calls and conducting inspections which ensure extinguishers are present, have been inspected and are properly tagged.
· Conducted asset risk assessments using the seven standards that define “Adequate Housing” as recognized in international human rights law and enshrined in the 2019 National Housing Strategy Act (see Federal Housing Advocate’s Observational Report – BC 2022).
· Developed an asset risk assessment on SROs, in cooperation with Vancouver Fire and Rescue based on data they collected and on critical incident data from Atira. Those assessments have been shared with BC Housing.
· Hosting the Housing and Safety Forum on February 13, 2024 in collaboration with BC Non-for-Profit Housing Association, where professionals in multiple disciplines, including first responders and safety, will be attending to share data to help plan for better supportive housing.
· Working with the Province to invest in technology such as LifeGuard at all SROs to enable ambient temperature monitoring and wired smoke detection to increase response time to a fire.
Atira operates 3,150 housing units for women, children, and all gender individuals in the Lower Mainland. More information is available on our website here: atira.bc.ca.
Media Contact: Tyler Pronyk