Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma said about 8,000 people in B.C. remained evacuated from their homes as of Monday, down significantly from around 30,000 a week ago.
But Ma acknowledged there have been challenges as the province and regional officials shift to post-fire recovery in the Central Okanagan, and that some residents have not been reimbursed after paying for their own emergency accommodation instead of waiting for referrals.
Ma said payments under the Emergency Support Services (ESS) scheme were supposed to be for evacuees who were unable to pay for their own immediate needs and were “not typically provided retroactively.”
But she said she was aware that the high volume of support requested in West Kelowna had created “abnormally long” wait times, and she had asked local authorities to determine if individual cases may require additional support “with compassion and flexibility.”
Residents who did not receive the support they needed should call a hotline to seek assistance at 1-800-585-9559, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, members of the BC United Caucus have spoken out about the ESS registration program in West Kelowna.
In an email to media, the caucus claimed the NDP government is making the situation worse and “unfairly punished” evacuees by allegedly refusing to reimburse those who paid out of pocket for accommodations during the emergency.
“When the Emergency Support Services registration process was unable to handle the volume of applicants in need of support, a number of evacuees paid for hotel rooms out of their own pockets — whether they could ‘afford’ to or not — and are now being told they’re not eligible for reimbursement,” said Kelowna West BC United MLA Ben Stewart. “These residents are essentially being punished for a system failure that was no fault of their own, and it’s not right.”
ESS said the evacuation orders that came from the McDougall Creek wildfire resulted in an unprecedented number of evacuees. The support services also noted that they are continuing to make enhancements to the system to meet the needs of those eligible for support.
According to BC United MLA Bruce Banman, shadow minister for Emergency Management, adjustments to this needs-based approach to ESS registration must be made to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
ESS is encouraging displaced homeowners and tenants with insurance to work with their insurer for reimbursement.
~With files from The Canadian Press