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‘Hotel living isn’t fun’: Evacuated Kelowna residents want answers from city, UBCO

Large cracks in the Hadgraft Wilson Place building led to an evacuation
Monique Saebels (left) and Megan Beckmann, residents of Hadgraft Wilson Place, share a moment during an interview with Black Press after being evacuated from their low-income apartments. (Brittany Webster/Black Press)

Living in a hotel is not a vacation when you have no idea when or if you can return home.

This is the reality for the more than 80 residents of Kelowna’s Hadgraft Wilson Place as they’ve been put up in various hotels after an evacuation of their apartment building was ordered.

Building management Pathways Abilities Society, a non-profit organization, has helped residents with the costs of hotel rooms and food vouchers.

Hadgraft resident Natasha Chance is grateful for Pathways but said, “I’m hoping that UBC and the mayor can help us find housing if this goes on longer than a month.”

Tenants of Hadgraft have received email updates from Pathways, but other than at the meeting on March 31, where residents were told to pack up, they have not heard anything from city officials or the University of B.C.

Residents were informed during a meeting on Easter Sunday that they would have until 6 p.m. on April 2 to evacuate the building. Large cracks in the building’s structure are visible on both the inside and outside of the apartment. The damage was caused by ground shifting due to the construction of the UBC Okanagan downtown campus project.

Residents were informed on April 5 that it would be at least two more weeks before they might get back into the building.

“It’s scary,” Chance said. “I have nowhere else to go and there are lots of other people in the same situation.”

Chance and a number of the other residents had been experiencing homelessness before moving into Hadgraft.

Jayme Brandoline and her fiance had been living in a tent in someone’s backyard ahead of getting the keys to the low-income apartment. She explained that getting into Hadgraft was a step closer to planning the wedding as the couple wanted all their “ducks in a row” before walking down the aisle.

The tenant said some of her best friends are now her neighbours in the building and laughed when talking about one of the kids who always came to visit.

“It was a sense of people not turning their eye to you anymore,” she commented.

The tenant added that she watched the neighbouring Kelowna Legion and CoLab building get evacuated at the end of last year and now to have her own apartment evacuated, it feels as though she’s being looked past once again due to the lack of communication and support from the city and the university.

“It’s so angering, to be honest. They represent themselves and they’re looking out for themselves,” Brandoline said. When asked if she had anything she wanted to say to the city, the woman said that maybe instead of the council’s expected 35 per cent pay increase they could help put new housing in place “for unfortunate people who have been pushed out of their homes.”

One of the children living in the building explained that Hadgraft was the first time she had her own room. The child and her parent used to live with other family and did not have a place to call home for about two years.

“It’s sad. We had a community there,” the girl said about Hadgraft, tearing up. “There’s a big community there and now we’re split up into three different hotels and all that. It’s hard.”

A couple of the children said it’s been tough to concentrate in school and living in a hotel isn’t fun, adding that the beds aren’t very comfortable.

One of the children from Hadgraft is not currently attending school as the bus can’t pick him up at the hotel. “Next week we are still staying in the hotel, so I don’t know how to take him,” said the boy’s mother Arena, who does not have a vehicle.

Arena said she moved from out of the country to Kelowna and getting into the low-income building was going to help toward a fresh start as a single mom in a new country. She loves Kelowna and the community here. With the lack of affordability in Kelowna, Arena is hoping to get back into the low-income apartment to guarantee her family can continue life in Kelowna.

As an option for those with limited income, Hadgraft Wilson Place houses several individuals with diverse physical and mental abilities. Shelley Decoste is one of those people.

“I’m thankful that my diversability allows me to utilize everyday things, but there’s a lot of individuals that need the extra support,” Decoste said.

Janelle and Paul are a couple living in the building who both use wheelchairs. Despite being placed in wheelchair accessible hotel room, they are facing challenges navigating the space.

“The only thing that made this room accessible was the bar in the bathroom and the lower peephole in the front door,” Janelle wrote to Black Press. “Between Paul and I, we have four chairs that need to be accessible at all times in our living space. Bottom line is, tight spaces are a no go for us.”

The couple’s support team scrambled and found the couple an accessible room, but the kitchen isn’t accessible for them and the bathroom is too tight for the chairs.

The Petcoff’s find themselves in a similar situation. The 89-year-old mother requires a medical bed and other equipment that doesn’t fit in a standard hotel room.

The apartment building is also a pet-friendly building. Resident Roxsin Miller had tried to stay with family nearby, but with his cat not getting along with other pets in the household he went back to the hotel. Several other residents said their pets are showing clear signs of anxiety and it adds to the stress of being displaced.

Across the board, Hadgraft residents are frustrated, scared, and tired while awaiting any update.

Monique Saebels and Megan Beckmann hosted a meeting on April 7, with as many Hadgraft residents as were able to attend after getting the news of the extended evacuation. Collectively it was decided that these women would be the faces behind the plea for help.

“Megan and I are representing the majority of the tenants at Hadgraft Wilson Place,” Saebels read out from a written statement. “We want to thank Pathways and BC Housing for their support through these difficult times, and Fire Chief Dwight Seymour. We are reaching out to our community to ask you all to make your voice heard with UBC and the City of Kelowna.”

Saebels and her 89-year-old mother live in the building. She noted that her mom’s health is declining due to the stress of the situation.

Beckmann has been living in a hotel longer than most Hadgraft residents after a pipe burst in the building earlier in the year and pushed a number of the tenants into hotels. Expected that work was being done to repair her apartment, it was a hard pill to swallow to find out that she and her kids would be displaced even longer.

“UBCO representatives could have vowed to help us at many points in the last months,” Beckmann said. “How about when the shifting and cracking started, or when the other buildings around us were condemned?… They instead let our community sit for months and months while we watched the hole get deeper and deeper and the cracks get longer and wider.”

Beckmann is a student at Okanagan College working toward an Applied Bachelor of Arts degree in Community Research and Evaluation. Her initial goal had been to complete the program and then transition to graduate students in social work at UBCO, something she is now rethinking over the university’s handling of their downtown build.

“I do not believe they have a place within our community and within the education system teaching advocation for social justice if this is how they treat their community. My goals have now changed after living UBCO’s version of social justice,” Beckmann read in a written statement.

Tenants at Hadgraft Wilson Place have a plea for the citizens of Kelowna.

“Ask why this has happened. We are people that have been ripped out of our homes and out of our lives and someone needs to be accountable as to why this build could continue having already caused so much damage,” Saebels read from her statement. “Please use your voices to not let this happen to anyone else.”

UBC has voluntarily stopped excavation work at the site of the downtown campus build.

UBC Properties Trust states on its website it “commits to maintaining the highest standards of ethical, moral, and legal business conduct. We ensure transparency through our Whistleblower Policy, offering a confidential channel to expose misconduct.”

Black Press has reached out to UBC Properties Trust for comment.

In an email to Black Press, Tom Wilson with the City of Kelowna said staff have offered assistance to Pathways and BC Housing in terms of helping to find more long-term accommodations for Hadgraft tenants if needed.

Brittany Webster

About the Author: Brittany Webster

I am a video journalist based in Kelowna and capturing life in the Okanagan
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