British Columbia

'It would be helpful': B.C. wildfire evacuees anxious to get Red Cross financial aid

Evacuees like John and Rena Gordey left Williams Lake a week ago with nothing. Now they, along with others at the evacuation centre in Kamloops, say they're still waiting on $600 from the Canadian Red Cross to help cope.

Some say they have waited weeks to get $600 to help them cope with being forced from home

'There is a lot of a people waiting and waiting, wondering why they didn’t get money,' says Williams Lake couple John and Rena Gordey about the $600 in financial aid from the Canadian Red Cross. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

John and Rena Gordey were walking around downtown Williams Lake, B.C., a week ago when an evacuation order was issued for their town and the surrounding area.

An RCMP cruiser came by and took them to a bus quickly on its way out of town. The couple arrived at the evacuation centre in Kamloops with just the clothes they were wearing at the time.

"We don't even have a cell phone," said John Gordey.

We really appreciate everybody's patience and understand that it's a scary and frustrating time for everyone.-  Lise Anne Pierce, Canadian Red Cross

The couple, along with thousands of others, say they are being well supported with free food and safe shelter. But they're still waiting on $600 from the Canadian Red Cross to help pay for the costs that will come when it's time to go home.

The Red Cross is distributing direct financial assistance to evacuees. 

Those who are eligible will receive $600 per household up to three times for every 14-day period they are forced out of their homes. They also get another $300 when they return home.

"It would be helpful," Gordey said.

"When you get back home, everything's going to be gone. Like, all your goods. I don't know if the power's going to be on. So the money would help to get everything reassessed and restocked."

The money is intended to help evacuees with their immediate needs, while further support, coming from the $6.5 million donated by Canadians for B.C. wildfire victims, will be used after residents return home.

The Red Cross says more than 16,640 households — 40,360 people — have registered with the organization in B.C. and so far it has helped out more than 10,700 households — representing 26,900 people.

The organization did not say what the average wait time is to receive the $600. 

While the support is reassuring for many, Lise Anne Pierce, manager of emergency operations for the Canadian Red Cross, admits it's tough for victims if they're waiting to receive it.

'I could get some more appropriate clothes. I didn’t know what evacuation living would be like, so we’re in a whole new different world here,' said Williams Lake wildfire evacuee Susanna Crocker about waiting on $600 in aid from the Canadian Red Cross. 'How are we going to get home?'

"We know that there's a lot of us in British Columbia that live paycheque to paycheque and we want to get those funds in peoples' hands," Pierce said.

"We know people are suffering and they're hurting and we want to be there every step of the way, and we're working really hard to make that happen."

While the quickest way through the process is registering online with the Red Cross, Pierce says it can be also done in person by talking to a volunteer.

"It can be really confusing for people," she said.

When evacuees arrive at emergency centres or seek to apply for help they usually register for emergency support services, which provides immediate needs like food, shelter and clothing.

To get the $600, they then have to also register with the Red Cross.

Once that's done, the organization works to confirm details and approve the government-supplied money to victims.

Sometime there are mistakes on applications though, which Pierce says can slow things down.

"Every time people re-register it means we have to then go in and make sure we're not duplicating peoples' registrations and duplicating the financial assistance," she said.

"We're being diligent and we're going as fast as we can to get that money out the door."

Pierce says considerations will be made on a case-by-case basis and evacuees should seek out meetings with volunteers at emergency centres or by calling 1-800-863-6582.