Here’s a story that caught my eye in today’s St. Catharines Standard, written by Monique Beech:

Sixteen people left homeless by a fire at a downtown St. Catharines rooming house last week may face the holidays without a permanent place to live.

Fire and smoke damage to the two-storey building at 131 King St. will take at least three to four weeks to repair, building manager Jackie Goldin said.

St. Catharines fire officials peg the cost of the damage to the insured building from the Dec. 4 fire at about $300,000.

“We’re trying to do (the repairs) as fast as we can,” Goldin said.

“They’re really working hard up there…. The sooner the better, of course.”

Residents were able to get back into the building Friday to pick up their belongings, Goldin said.

The Canadian Red Cross Society’s Niagara branch put up the displaced residents at the Q-Way Motel for three days until Sunday.

Since then, eight residents have sought help from the Niagara Homelessness Initiative Outreach Program.

Some are staying with friends, but several have no place to go, said A.J. Heafey, program manager.

Program staff helped connect residents with local emergency shelters and will try to help them find new affordable housing, if need be, Heafey said.

Residents, most of whom are on fixed income, paid a very affordable rent of about $420 per month at the King Street rooming house, Heafey said.

“So now trying to find something that is in that price range can be difficult,” Heafey said.

“It’s just a matter of losing everything, you know, and trying to obtain affordable shelter. It’s kind of upsetting for some of them.”

St. Catharines fire officials suspect careless smoking by one of the tenants caused the early morning blaze that sent three people to hospital with smoke inhalation.

One man was still in hospital on Tuesday. His injuries were non-life-threatening and he was expected to be released soon, said Bev Moore, director of social services with the Salvation Army in St. Catharines, which is also helping fire victims.

The organization is working with a social worker to help the man, who is a regular client of the Salvation Army, Moore said.

The non-profit agency is trying to help other victims by finding them shelter at the Salvation Army Booth Centre on Church Street, giving them clothing, and helping them replace belongings that were damaged in the fire, she said.

Donations of furniture and clothing or money would be appreciated, she said.

To help, call the Salvation Army at 905-935-4311.

Fire officials are still investigating the blaze, including whether the building had proper safety equipment, such as smoke alarms.

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