Congregants mourn loss of Downtown Eastside community church in overnight fire
The 'hot dog church' was known for serving hundreds of meals a day
Congregants say the loss of Street Church on Vancouver's Hastings Street won't soon be forgotten as a place of refuge and community after the building was destroyed in an overnight fire Wednesday.
The church burned down after a fire started in an adjoining building in the 100 block of East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside.
"I can't believe it's still happening. My heart is so broken," said pastor Christina Dawson, who came to the church three years ago.
She watched Wednesday night as the fire spread across the building.
"As you can see flames going up, and smoke billowing out, I could see that and I'm screaming and crying, 'no, no, why?'"
She says the church helped her out of homelessness three years ago and has become a place of refuge to many others in the Downtown Eastside.
"Coming to Street Church it really comforted me and made me feel rested," said Dawson. "A place to rest and a place to have something to eat."
The church was known for serving meals to about 100 to 200 people a day for years, and while those numbers dwindled during the pandemic, it kept its familiar nickname.
"A lot of people called it the 'hot dog church' because we serve hot dogs," said Dawson.
"That church was very important in a community like this," said churchgoer Marc Lawrence.
"I didn't go to that church for the food, I went for the message."
Fire investigation ongoing
Fire crews were in the neighbourhood Thursday morning, working to extinguish the stubborn fire.
Officials say the fire started just after 9 p.m. Wednesday night. It took 47 firefighters to finally put it out the next morning.
Investigators are still looking into what sparked the fire in the alleyway, the third major fire in the area in three months.
Over a week ago, the Value Village store on Hastings Street near Victoria Drive was also burned to the ground. Investigators haven't said whether the building fires are linked.
"We don't have any indication if they're connected at all or whether it's just timing," said Matthew Trudeau, a fire information officer for Vancouver Fire Rescue Services.
"[Fire investigators are] looking at all the different events that have occurred and will make sure that, if there is a connection, they will look into that."
The Maple Hotel, a single room occupancy (SRO) hotel next to Street Church, was evacuated as the fire burned, but officials say residents should be able to return home within a day. The SRO suffered some smoke and water damage.
In the meantime, city engineers are determining the fate of Street Church, and residents of the other building and the neighbourhood are apprehensive about its future.
"More housing, but not for us," said Lawrence. "Young people are moving into them all the time but the places are getting flipped because they see the lay of the land."
With files from Lien Yeung