Home that was a refuge to newcomers to Hamilton severely damaged by fire
'I was away and I got a phone call saying my house was on fire'
Amr Abdel-Latif has been providing a place of refuge mainly to newcomers and racialized individuals for more than three years, but his ability to help vanished this week when his home — near Aberdeen and Fairmont — was ravaged by fire.
Abdel-Latif was not at home when the fire started at around 12 30 p.m. Monday, but his two housemates were. One of them had to be dragged out of the burning home by the other, and remains in hospital as of Friday.
"I was away and I got a phone call saying my house was on fire," Abdel-Latif told CBC Hamilton.
"I rushed back to see what had happened and I was informed that the fire had started. One of my housemates [who] was sleeping heard a fire alarm, went outside the room to see, and he helped out the other housemate who was unresponsive at the time and dragged him outside of the house."
Abdel-Latif said two rooms in the two-storey, three-bedroom house were severely damaged in the fire while the rest of the house was covered with soot. The building is insured.
Abdel-Latif and his housemate have been staying at a friend's house since Monday's fire, and he said it would be at least six months before they would be able to return home.
"He's traumatized and he's having a hard time at this point because he was the main person in the middle of the fire, in the middle of the situation," Abdel-Latif said.
While he was not at liberty to share the names of his housemates, Abdel-Latif said one of them is still relatively new to Canada, while the other has been in the country more than three years.
A place where our community can come together
Abdel-Latif, who is from Jordan, has been living in Canada for 14 years.
"I decided to create a place where our community can come together, and a place where I can help people who may be in housing situations and need a place to go to," he told CBC News.
"They would come here, stay there for a bit, and if they wanted to stay longer we would arrange for them to pay whatever they can and then they would move on when they are able to."
Over the years he said he has helped about five people with accommodation.
"They are not random people. A lot of them are friends, people I actually know who were just in unfortunate situations or something like that and I just, as a friend, reached out to give a helping hand," he said.
Abdel-Latif runs his own residential cleaning service out of the house and regularly hires newcomers, but he said the fire has brought everything to a halt.
"I wasn't obviously able to get inside the house to take any of my equipment," he said.
"As far as I know, a lot of my equipment was saved so I'm really happy about that. But I just don't have the energy, the mental or physical energy to actually go and do the work."
The people who depend on me to employ them or give them work, they weren't able to work because I'm the one who drives them, for example, to the location. I'm the one who has the equipment."
According to Abdel-Latif, he understands what newcomers and racialized people go through.
"Even though few people have lived in the house, they're racialized, they come from different paths, from different experiences," he said.
"I'm not trying to save anyone, that's not what I'm doing. I'm just trying to build a welcoming place, that's what I'm trying to do with the help of my friends."
Abdel-Latif said friends have launched a GoFundMe page, mainly to help support his housemates who are students and have lost all of their belongings.