Manitoba

Red Cross considers closing 1 of 2 Winnipeg emergency shelters for evacuees from Island Lake area

The Canadian Red Cross will decide Tuesday whether it will close one of two large shelters for evacuees from three fire-threatened First Nations in Winnipeg, as evacuees find alternative places to stay and hotel rooms free up in the city.

Roughly 4,200 people were flown out of Wasagamack, Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point First Nations last week

Evacuees chat Tuesday outside the emergency shelter at the Leila Avenue soccer complex. (CBC)

The Canadian Red Cross will decide Tuesday whether it will close one of two large Winnipeg shelters as Island Lake fire evacuees find alternative places to stay and hotel rooms free up in the city.

"What we are finding is people register and they're directed to the shelters and then they find their way to friends and family," said Shawn Feely, regional vice-president of the Red Cross. 

Feely added that many of the people who have found alternative accommodations "go back to the shelter for services such as getting diapers and vouchers for incidentals."

Roughly 4,200 people from Wasagamack, Garden Hill and St. Theresa Point First Nations were forced from their homes last week by a wildfire burning nearby and brought to safety in Winnipeg and Brandon.

Last week about 2,000 evacuees were sheltered in emergency centres set up at the RBC Convention Centre and a soccer complex on Leila Avenue.

On Tuesday afternoon, Feely said only about 600 people stayed in the two shelters on Monday night.

Feely also said more hotel rooms are expected to become available soon as roughly 750 people evacuated from Poplar River First Nation return home this week after being forced to leave in August by another fire.

The organization will decide whether to close a shelter on Tuesday, Feely said.

Harold Taylor has been staying at the convention centre shelter since Friday. The Garden Hill resident said so far, he's taken the experience in stride.

"For me it's all right. Everybody's getting along. We all know each other," he said.

Harold Taylor has been staying at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg since Friday after being forced from his home community of Garden Hill First Nation by smoke from a nearby fire. (CBC)

Taylor did say a lack of showers and privacy at the Convention Centre can be challenging at times. 

Evacuees staying at the convention centre can take a shuttle bus to the shelter on Leila Avenue to use showers there, and buses are also made available to Walmart for evacuees to shop.

Taylor said he's gone to a friend's house to shower and spends his days visiting relatives and friends in the city.

"I'm not that bored, because I've got friends with me. … I've got family, too," he said.

Swan Hill, 17, has been at the Leila Avenue shelter since Friday and said he's having difficult sleeping in the roomful of people.

"Way too much. Can't sleep here. We're still waiting for a hotel," he said.

Hill told CBC News he's getting bored and spends his days walking around downtown.

"I chase around my little brother here … it's pretty boring."

Evacuees in need of strollers

The Red Cross has said it doesn't need in-kind donations, but Island Lake First Nations Family Services is asking for strollers to help parents explore the city with their children. Many of the families weren't able to bring that sort of gear with them when they were evacuated, he said.

"For the first couple of days you're in shock and you're tired, but after a while, after things settle a little bit, you're going to want to keep your youngsters occupied," said Phillip Paul-Martin, a spokesperson for the family services organization.

The organization is accepting donations of strollers and strap-on baby carriers. They can be dropped off at the Island Lake First Nations Family Services offices on the fifth floor at 338 Broadway Ave.

"This is one of those needs that filter down after a couple of days. I wouldn't say it got left by the wayside, but it certainly became a bigger issue as of this morning," Paul-Martin said Tuesday.

Donations will be distributed between evacuees in Winnipeg and Brandon, he added.

now