Syrian refugee families struggle to find housing after Coquitlam apartment fire

The City of Coquitlam and Immigrant Services Society of B.C. are looking for donations and permanent housing solutions for the displaced families.

City and immigrant services society looking for permanent housing solutions for the displaced families

A number of families were evacuated after a fire erupted at a complex at 550 Cottonwood Avenue in Coquitlam, B.C. (Shane MacKichan)

The City of Coquitlam is calling on residents to help find housing for a group of Syrian refugees recently displaced by a devastating apartment fire.

"There's more optimism than pessimism," says Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

Twelve families lost their homes — ten of them were recently arrived Syrian refugees. Altogether, the City of Coquitlam said, 86 residents have been displaced. 

"They have spent the last six months building the household that they need for their children," Stewart said.  "So we're working hard with them now to put them back on their feet."

The families are temporarily being housed at Simon Fraser University in some vacant townhouses, but only for a few more days. 

Immigrant Services Society of B.C. has taken on the responsibility of finding them housing, but the mayor is still asking for help from generous Coquitlam residents.

"We're putting out a call today to our residents for an unused basement suite or any number of other options, two bedrooms, three bedrooms — those kinds of things. A bachelor suite doesn't work really well for a family of four."

Stewart said cash is also needed, and anyone who wishes to donate can find more information on the City of Coquitlam website.

A firefighter surveys damage to an Coquitlam, B.C. apartment after a fire on Thursday, July 28. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The mayor said he was able to secure emergency funding from the province to help with the accommodation.

He said the province committed to the unusual arrangement because of the shortage of hotels due to the long weekend and Pride week festivities.

Community rallies in support

Stewart also commended the community for their support.

"We certainly saw over the weekend a rally of support once again — to the point where we had to say 'We're not ready to accept goods, except for targeted items,'" he said. 

Some of those targeted items include children's clothing and toys, and modest women's clothing.

But, Stewart said, what these families really need is housing.

"We are struggling to locate some options for families," he said.

Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart, pictured here at the scene of the fire, said the families are doing well and "these are folks with remarkable resilience". (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

With files from The Early Edition.