South Okanagan Events Centre staff and emergency social services volunteers set up 400 cots in the SOEC concourse Monday to house B.C. wildfire evacuees. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Challenge Penticton means few hotel rooms for evacuees

Evacuees heading to Penticton are asked to try to find room with friends and families

As the Challenge Penticton race approaches, hotel rooms are disappearing as an option for those coming to Penticton from fire-struck areas of the province.

That’s not to say the city doesn’t have room for evacuees — volunteers with Emergency Social Services and staff at the South Okanagan Events Centre set up 400 cots in the SOEC concourse on Monday.

Related: More than 50 ICBC wildfire claims filed

Though local ESS director Bonny Billups said those cots likely wouldn’t be as comfortable for evacuees as a hotel room would be.

“Really nice having the hotels rather than putting them into group lodging, because they’re just, it’s a lot kinder,” she said. “Cot and a blanket and meals, you get in the group lodging.”

With that in mind, Billups said those who won’t be able to stay in a hotel room should be seeking space to stay with friends or family.

“The Challenge race takes up most of the hotels in town, so we’re going to encourage people, stay with your friends and family if you can,” she said. “We don’t provide billeting to different families, but if they have somewhere to stay and they need some assistance, come and see us.”

That aid will come largely in the form of groceries and incidentals, and the ESS also works with the Red Cross to reunite family members.

Billups also put out a call for any hotels or motels that have vacancy to contact the ESS at the Penticton Community Centre.

Related: White Lake fire gives city a break for now

“That would be very helpful,” she said, adding that there isn’t a serious concern that an influx in evacuees this week would overload the emergency shelters.

“We can put people into group lodging, as well,” she said. “But we are encouraging people to try to find places to stay and then come in and ask for assistance with groceries and that kind of thing.”

Around 10 people are being put up in hotels that Billups is aware of, and they’ll be able to stay for at least for a few days.

“They’re in for the full seven days from when they were issued their referral. The hotels have been very kind in helping us out that way,” she said.

“If hotels have any space left for another seven days, we would appreciate knowing that. Because that’s something that we’re — so we don’t have to phone all the time. They can call in to our reception number and let us know what they’ve got available at their hotel.”

Related: CRD and 100 Mile begin evaluating safe return for evacuated residents

As of Tuesday morning, 132 evacuees registered with the ESS in Penticton, meaning even if all those not staying in hotel rooms were sleeping in the SOEC, there’s room for another 378 spaces immediately available for evacuees.

Currently, the major hurdle for the ESS if an influx of evacuees were to come to Penticton would be processing power. Billups told the Western News on Monday that she had around 30 volunteers working with her, but she’s looking to train another 50.

But as it is, Billups said part of the allure for those who have come to Penticton was the lack of a lineup at the emergency operations centre.

While Billups did say there was somewhat of a rush on Monday, it slowed down into the evening, and no rush has been reported Tuesday morning.

Those who do come to Penticton have one important piece of advice from Billups:

“Register, register register. That is so important to go in and register,” she said.

“If they don’t register, they can’t get assistance. If they need assistance, we’re here to help them.”

Related: Evacuation order remains for Lake Country


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