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Neighbours watch through night in anguish as fire devours building with affordable housing on Fraser

All photos by Krissy Darch

Few people slept on the corner of Fraser and Broadway last night.

I sat up at midnight to a man shouting “Fire! Fire!,” into an eerily quiet street. I went out to my rickety balcony to the smell of smoke.  Neighbours from the surrounding houses, wrapped in blankets, in wheelchairs, and an array of students and low-income folks from the neighbourhood were out on the street before the firefighters.

An upstairs neighbour who has lived in the building for fifteen years came to chat with me as I watched with trepidation. “It seems suspicious to me,” he said. “You know what was over there? An old building with low rent housing. I bet you a huge condo is going to go up there next.”

Since I have been working overnight shifts in supported, low-income housing down town, I was wide awake, and joined my neighbours on the sidewalk. People smoked, sipped hot drinks, and watched in silence.

As the fire burned on, onlookers snapped photos, and people stayed out until the sun came up, as though holding vigil for the neighbourhood.

I watched too, because it means the same thing to me as it does to many of the others on the street: the loss of more affordable housing in Vancouver. 

The fact that it was so close to home made it feel as though the loss was all of ours.  Right now, as a part time worker in supported housing, looking for more work, my rent and bills in a bachelor are over half of my income.  Like many people in this neighbourhood, I work and live pay-cheque to pay-cheque. We have made and found community in pockets of the city in old, run-down walk ups.  When another one of them goes up in flames, so does more of our sense of security.

At 5 a.m., the fire was mostly under control, but my concerns were not. Judging by all the lights on in the surrounding apartments and conversations filtering through the windows of my building, this fire in an old townhouse has had an impact on the neighbourhood beyond a bit of random midnight drama. 

I have moved six times in my six years living in Vancouver, and each pocket of affordable housing I could find -- Main Street, Strathcona, the East Side of Mount Pleasant -- has seen an influx of people capable of paying much higher rent than I ever could in the foreseeable future. I have found my people in Mount Pleasant and East Van -- unpretentious, hard working, and who know that your value as a person doesn’t lie in what’s in your bank account.

I hope, despite the massively destructive fires that have crept down Broadway from Main these past few years, that we can stay.

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