Most Willows apartment residents find housing

Landlord secures new places to live for displaced fire victims

David Cathcart was listening to his scanner early Friday morning when a broadcast went out saying the Willows apartment building was on fire.

A resident there for six years, Cathcart ran out to the patio of his first-floor apartment and saw the flames at the southeast corner of the building stretching into the sky.

“I only had time to grab my cellphone and the clothes on my back,” he said Tuesday.

Cathcart has been a Mission Record carrier for a decade, and said community organizations have been aiding as much as they can.

“Emergency Social Services and the Salvation Army have been very helpful,” said Cathcart, who turns 64 on Monday, and figures while no fire touched his unit, the smoke and water damage will have likely destroyed all his belongings.

The building will have to be demolished and rebuilt, said Willows’ owner Steve Yap. He’s been trying to help his tenants as much as possible, and as of Tuesday afternoon, 90 per cent of residents have found permanent housing.

“I can help them find accommodations, and help them with rent, but they lost everything … and no matter how much I try, it’s never going to be enough,” said Yap, who learned about the fire at 3:30 a.m. Friday when his resident manager called.

Yap was on scene in about 10 minutes offering to help, but emergency personnel stopped him from entering the building.

Instead, Yap rushed over to everyone exiting the building to put a warm blanket over them or offer  dry clothes. He even offered his tenants a seat in his van to keep warm and dry while the rain poured down.

Neighbours also stepped up and offered water, coffee and warm blankets, said Yap, who has been impressed with the help offered. Mission Emergency Social Services and the Red Cross also spent hundred of hours on the long weekend to assist the displaced residents.

“The community is amazing,” said Yap. “People helping people in their own community… it’s unbelievable.”

Yap was also touched by his tenants as they hugged him and told him he was the best landlord they every had.

“I thought they’d be mad,” admitted Yap, who says his building was home to low-income residents, but they are some of his best tenants. “I like every one of them.”

Yap is also collecting donations for residents. Donations can be taken to Belle’s Sports at 33089 First Ave. They will be stored at a vacant store on First Avenue where fire victims can choose what they need.