The Wellesley Community Centre has become the official waiting area for residents of the Toronto Community Housing high-rise at 200 Wellesley Street East, more than a thousand of whom were evacuated on Friday night after a fire broke out in an apartment on the building’s twenty-fourth floor.
Inside the Community Centre on Saturday afternoon, representatives of City and community organizations sat behind tables, providing whatever assistance they could. One table was devoted entirely to helping residents obtain their pets, many of which were left behind during the evacuation.
Dorota Romaniuk sat in the Community Centre’s small gymnasium, picking at a plate of chicken and mashed potatoes. Everyone was eating chicken and mashed potatoes, as a matter of fact, because it was being handed out for free, by volunteers. It had come from Swiss Chalet.
“I just want to know what’s going on,” said Romaniuk, a fourteen-year resident of 200 Wellesley Street with long red hair and an accent that was difficult to place. She had arrived home from work last night only to be denied access to her apartment by emergency responders. “At some point I need to get in. I need to go back to work. I have no clothes to go back to work.” She said she’d slept at her cousin’s home, and that she’d do so again tonight, if necessary. For those who had nowhere to go, the Community Centre was filled with cots, draped with Red Cross blankets. Some residents slept at other ad-hoc downtown shelters last night.
We took leave of Romaniuk, and then a pair of Toronto Police officers approached and asked who it was that we were writing for. There was no correct answer to this question. Members of the media were not permitted inside the Community Centre. Neither were politicians (though Glen Murray and George Smitherman had been there the previous night), which accounted for the absence of obscure city council candidates—though at least one was hovering around outside, glad-handing locked-out residents, who were decidedly not glad. Many were elderly, which would have seemed bad enough, had not several residents we spoke to added that some of the building’s population had conditions that required medication, and that this medication had been left behind in the apartments of its owners, and was now inaccessible to them. The Star reports that community workers have been making medication runs on behalf of residents.
Nobody seemed anxious to contemplate the possibility of the lockout lasting longer than the half-life of the average prescription drug.
A Toronto Police Service sergeant didn’t know when residents would be allowed back in, but suggested that Toronto Fire might have information.
Toronto Fire Division Commander Robert O’Hallarn said that fire marshalls were in the process of examining the building’s structural integrity, as well its electrical and fire alarm systems. Residents would not be allowed back in until the marshalls had filed their report, he said.
The fire, which had been confined mostly to the area in which it had started, had only been brought under control as of 5 a.m. O’Hallarn said he expected the rest of the building to be inhabitable.
O’Hallarn added that there had been no reports of fatalities, but that there were “still a lot of pets missing.”