Residents displaced by St. James Town fire search for housing as deadline to leave hotels looms

Hundreds of residents forced out of their St. James Town apartment building have been staying in hotels for over a week, but some of them are being told they have to leave by Friday.

700 residents displaced by fire have been staying in hotels across the city

Dozens of Toronto firefighters were called to deal with a blaze at a highrise apartment building on Parliament Street last Tuesday afternoon. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Hundreds of residents forced out of their St. James Town apartment building have been staying in hotels for more than a week, but some of them are being told they have to leave by Friday.

According to the City of Toronto, 700 residents displaced by the six-alarm fire at 650 Parliament Street last week have been staying in hotels across the city.

But, in a letter from the city and the Canadian Red Cross, residents were told they will need to check out "between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4," because the hotels are largely booked for the Labour Day long-weekend.

A spokesperson for the city told CBC Toronto around one-third of residents staying in hotels will be checking out on Friday, while the majority of residents will be able to stay until September 4.

On Aug. 21, a six-alarm fire tore through the residential highrise tower at 650 Parliament Street, forcing 1,500 people from their homes. The fire caused substantial structural damage and also knocked out the building's electrical system.

'It's very unsettling'

Many residents told CBC News on Thursday, they don't know what they are going to do.

"There seems to be a bit of a lack of leadership because we don't know what to do next," said Lee Turner who has been in a hotel for nine days. He will have to leave on Monday. 

"Being uprooted and then not having anywhere to plant our roots is very unnerving, it's very unsettling, it's a tough way to live."

Turner said he and his partner Corinne have other options like friends and family to stay with once the hotel stint is over. But, for residents who don't have that option, they may need to stay on a cot in a make-shift shelter being set up in Regent Park.

As of noon Friday, the city will be opening a reception centre at Regent Park Community Centre where residents with no other accommodations can get cots to sleep on overnight, meals, locked storage cupboards for their belongings and animal services for their pets. 

Turner and his partner said they have neighbours who are going to stay at the community centre and think it's "an awful situation."

Hicham Jbara said he is "lucky" and gets to stay in his hotel until Monday, but worries about many of his neighbours who must leave on Friday.

"For me I don't have any kids," he said. "But, how about the families that have kids what are they going to do with them after tomorrow?"

'Where are they going to go?'

Another resident, Sophia Linhires, said she is staying with friends and family, but like Jbara is worried about her neighbours who aren't as lucky. 

"They are being rejected from hotels and school is starting, where are they going to go from there? I myself am with family but others aren't so that's kind of my concern."

Mayor John Tory has put out a call for donations to help the displaced families find accommodations and ensure they have the basic necessities while they await word on when they may be able to return to their units, which may be months. 

As of noon on Thursday, the city has received 155 offers of accommodations and $74,000 to help the families. 

"Going forward, the most critical need is accommodation for the almost 1,500 displaced residents," the city said in a press release Thursday.