Fire at women’s shelter forces evacuation

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Cornerstone provides emergency shelter and supportive housing for women. It is funded by the City of Ottawa, the diocese of Ottawa, grants from organizations and private donations. Photo: Art Babych
Cornerstone provides emergency shelter and supportive housing for women. It is funded by the City of Ottawa, the diocese of Ottawa, grants from organizations and private donations. Photo: Art Babych

No one was injured in an early-morning fire, January 30, at an emergency shelter operated by Cornerstone Housing for Women, a ministry of the diocese of Ottawa.

The blaze in the four-storey building owned by the City of Ottawa forced the evacuation of 62 women and caused an estimated $100,000 damage.

Firefighters were met with thick, black smoke as they responded to multiple 911 calls at 2:30 a.m., but had the fire under control by 3 a.m. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Sue Garvey, executive director of Cornerstone Housing for Women, told the Anglican Journal February 1 that everything is back to normal and the residents are fine. The fire was contained to one room and a hallway on the fourth floor, she said. “We’ll probably have to replace the contents of three or four rooms,” said Garvey. As for the room where the fire started, “everything will have to be replaced.”

Although the fire was isolated to one room, it was serious enough that the residents were evacuated and sheltered in a City of Ottawa community centre for the remainder of the morning, said Garvey. “No one was hurt, although you can imagine it was difficult for all involved.”

Garvey added, “We are extremely grateful to the amazing Cornerstone staff members, who acted quickly and competently to make sure residents were kept safe and cared for.” As well, she said, the shelter received “wonderful assistance” from fire and police services, the City of Ottawa, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. The Red Cross has provided emergency clothing, blankets and toiletries to the displaced women.

Several people have offered to help the shelter, but Garvey asks that they not send material items, “as we are still assessing the needs and have no additional storage.” Also, the shelter is limited to very specific types of furniture and bedding, she said. “If you are able to help financially to cover the cost of replacing the needed items, that would be greatly appreciated.” Those wishing to make a financial donation may do so by going to the Cornerstone Housing for Women website.

In November 2009, a 61-year-old woman died following a fire in Cornerstone’s McLaren street facility, which provides permanent affordable housing for women.

Cornerstone is funded by the City of Ottawa, the diocese of Ottawa, grants from organizations and private donations. It provides emergency shelter and supportive housing for a diversity of women at its four residences in Ottawa.

The organization was started in 1983 by a small group of people concerned about women living on the streets of Ottawa with no permanent home. Cots were placed on the floor of All Saints Anglican Church in Sandy Hill so that women could stay overnight and out of the cold.

The most recent addition to Cornerstone was a new building constructed in 2011 at 314 Booth Street. It provides 42 self-contained apartments in an affordable supportive housing community.

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Art is the former editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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