Latoya Wiks is making life as normal as possible for her five kids, but having everyone share one crowded room is stressful. Pictured with baby Tobias and three-year-old Novah. (Zoe Ducklow photo)

Latoya Wiks is making life as normal as possible for her five kids, but having everyone share one crowded room is stressful. Pictured with baby Tobias and three-year-old Novah. (Zoe Ducklow photo)

Housing shortage showing its teeth after North Island apartment fire

The suspicious January fire dispossessed 15 families in Port Hardy

Two weeks after a fire ripped through an apartment in Port Hardy, the six families still looking for new homes are drawing attention to the housing shortage on the North Island.

Residents fled from smoke and flames late on Jan. 17, some dropping out of windows in their panic in the middle of the night. The hallway was destroyed, and suites have varying levels of smoke and water damage. Some first-floor apartments are almost cleared for re-entry, but most tenants of the 15-unit building need new homes.

Latoya Wiks lived on the ground floor with her partner, James Charlie, and their five young children. She was recovering from a cesarean section three weeks earlier when their youngest son Tobias was born. When the alarm went off, Charlie went to check if it was a real fire and not a prank. He heard someone yelling, “It’s real, it’s real, there’s a fire!”

He ran to wake the kids, groggy with sleep, while Wiks gathered things for the baby. Wiks threw the dog on the stroller and handed the guinea pig to her oldest daughter. They went through the now familiar drill of making sure everyone had jackets and shoes.

“As soon as we got outside, boom, we see someone drop. I’m freaking out, my kids are screaming.”

Another person was lying in the wet grass with a broken leg.

“My three-year-old was just screaming and shaking, his eyes were huge.”

The family of seven has been living in a two-bed hotel room since the fire, grateful for the help from Emergency B.C., but not sure how long it will last. So far they’ve had no luck finding a new home.

Selenia in her nook under the “kitchen table.” Normal food and school snacks have been one of the biggest challenges in living at a hotel, Laytoya Wiks said. (Zoe Ducklow photo)


RELATED: ‘Suspicious’ Port Hardy apartment fire could keep tenants out of their homes for months

There’s scant availability in Port Hardy on a good day, never mind when a dozen families are looking at the same time.

Three-and-a-half years ago, a fire at Creekside Apartments displaced 65 people, who struggled for months to find stable homes. In ironic timing, Creekside re-opened for tenants days before the fire at Town Park. The new owners say they received 200 applications for the 23 spaces.

Charlie, a member of Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw, has applied for housing on the Tsulquate reserve, but the list of applicants ahead of them is about 25 families long, the band housing administrator said. The Tsulquate reserve there are two transition houses for emergency situations, but they’re both occupied right now.

It’s frustrating for Wiks, who’s Kwakiutl, that even in an emergency neither band have been able to help house their family.

“I was crying, practically begging them, like please, this is embarrassing, we’re living in a hotel after a fire.”

Five-week-old Tobias is lost in his dad’s gaze. (Zoe Ducklow photo)


RELATED: Dog needs surgery after apartment fire injury

On top of finding a new home, they’ll have to replace much of their furniture. Anything porous, like beds, couches, desks, chairs and even toys, have been ruined by chemicals in the smoke, they’ve been told.

Four-year-old Selenia describes in detail a toy playpen and stroller for her dolls that she got for Christmas. It’s one of the things ruined in the fire. The kids have been given new toys, which they’re all grateful for, but they still keep asking when they can go home.

The seven of them have made life in the hotel room as normal as possible. Wiks established a separate nook for each of their clothes, and a box for small toys. Eight-year-old Lila and six-year-old Lazarus are still in school as Selenia sets up her toys under a side table that serves as a kitchen counter. She fits cozily in the cranny.

Novah, who just turned three, has made himself and his toys at home. The three-inch ledge atop the bed frames are home to small dinosaurs — “doh-do-dos” — and action figures, precisely stationed.

Baby Tobias is healthy and happy, gazing fixedly into his dad’s eyes, unaware that anything’s amiss.

The Charlie-Wiks’ have made life in the hotel as normal as possible, but it’s stressful to say the least. Their oldest child was still at school when this photo was taken. Left to right: Lazarus (6), James Charlie, Novah (3), Selenia (4), Latoya Wiks and Tobias (five weeks). (Zoe Ducklow photo))


Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


Fire evacuationHousing

Just Posted

Port Alberni Fire Dept. deputy chief Wes Patterson, right, and another firefighter monitor the front of a garage at Second Avenue and Argyle Street that burned on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Fire starts in empty garage on Argyle Street in Port Alberni

Garage was attached to empty multi-storey commercial building

Rob Mah was just 20 when he hosted Strictly Jazz, a radio show on CJAV radio in Port Alberni, B.C. A fan of the Big Band era of music, he spun a lot of Dixieland jazz on his show. (PHOTO COURTESY MAH FAMILY)
QUINN’S QUIPS: Radio station’s 75th brings memories to Mah family

Celebrating the late Rob Mah’s victories timely for national Asian heritage month

Ken Rutherford, left, and Rick Lord of Port Alberni receive honours from the National Model Railroad Association—Pacific Northwest Region for 40 years of dedication to the preservation and presentation of railroad history. (PHOTO COURTESY PHYLLIS RUTHERFORD)
Model railroaders from Port Alberni honoured for rail preservation

Ken Rutherford and Rick Lord put on annual model railroad meet in Nanaimo for 35 years

Former Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ associate coach Brandon Shaw has been named head coach of the Coquitlam Express, also of the B.C. Hockey League. The announcement was made May 12, 2021. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)
BCHL’s Coquitlam Express hire new head coach

Brandon Shaw leaves Alberni Valley Bulldogs for bench boss job

The Alberni Golf Club is located on Cherry Creek Road. FILE PHOTO
ALBERNI GOLF: Men’s club tees up for Mother’s Day

Next Sunday, May 16 will be the Stableford competition

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

A nurse asks screening questions at an immunization appointment in Nanaimo earlier this year. (Shawn Wagar/Island Health photo)
Island Health appreciates nurses answering the call in challenging times

Health authority draws attention to National Nursing Week

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

These are just a handful of Vancouver Island’s missing person cases. Clockwise from top left: Lisa Marie Young, Lindsey Nicholls, Micheal Dunahee, Jesokah Adkens, Belinda Cameron and Emma Fillipoff. (File photos courtesy of family members and police departments)
Could Victoria skull fragment bring closure to an Island missing persons mystery?

Skeletal remains found in Greater Victoria have not yet been identified

Most Read