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Evacuated North Shuswap residents at risk of being temporarily homeless

‘I’ve never gone through anything like this. I’ve never been in the system before’
Displaced by the Bush Creek East wildfire, former North Shuswap resident LJ Folden sits in his room at the Sorrento Inn, where he’s able to stay until April 30 when the financial support he’s received since the fire comes to an end. (Heather Black-Salmon Arm Observer)

LJ Folden isn’t accustomed to asking for help.

“I used to be 6’4” and 280 lbs – a big strong independent guy, people asked me for help, I didn’t ask other people for help,” said Folden. “And then all of a sudden I’ve got blood clots, and then I got bladder cancer and then enlarged prostate and then I lost my leg, and then the fire burned and I lost everything else.

“It’s been a really rough couple of years.”

Folden has been without a residence since the Bush Creek East wildfire destroyed his rental accommodation in Scotch Creek. Though housing has been lined up for him in Chase, it is still under construction and may not be completed for another four to six months. In the meantime, Folden has to be out of the Sorrento hotel where he’s staying as of April 30.

“I’ve been helped out by the grace of God and by others and that has brought me to where I am today which is, I have to move out of where I’m at at the end of this month and I have nowhere to go,” said Folden.

Folden is one of three people in the same situation, who Salmon Arm resident Monica Gail Kriese has been working with, first through the Emergency Operations/Resiliency Centre and now on her own.

The other two are seniors who also lost their rental accommodations in the 2023 wildfire. Kriese says their support also comes to an end on April 30.

“The uncertainty has been so hard on them and it feels like these last few have been forgotten because the public doesn’t know the situation that they’re in,” said Gail Kriese. “These two other folks, they are seniors that don’t have any family at all in the area and they each have a cat. And that becomes a bit of a barrier and yet they shouldn’t have to lose their beloved. They’ve lost so much.”

Gail Kriese said the two seniors are also waiting for the Chase facility. Until then, the three face the prospect of being temporarily homeless – compounding the existing trauma associated with their wildfire experiences.

“My place was on fire 10 minutes after I left,” said Folden of his evacuation. “It was very, very scary. I was driving through walls of flame that were across the highway and I had no idea what was on either side.

“I couldn’t see, it was just a wall of flame. So I just hit the gas and headed about 60 kilometres an hour and went through it.”

About two months before the wildfire, Folden’s leg was amputated in response to blood clots that led to peripheral vascular disease. When he evacuated, he took what belongings he could fit in his minivan, including his wheelchair. One of his challenges now is finding temporary accommodation that is wheelchair accessible.

“I’m OK with staying in the area, but I’m also OK with living somewhere else until I can move into the building in Chase,” said Folden.

“I’m not being difficult or super picky or anything like that. The big barrier for me is my wheelchair. I’m trying to find a place that is wheelchair friendly and that’s nearly impossible because there’s always steps or the door is too narrow or it’s in the basement or… something that is not wheelchair friendly.

“I try to contact people on Facebook marketplace looking for some place to live, looking for a room to rent, a small studio apartment or something that I can live in for a few months until I move into Chase. And nobody responds to my messages.”

Gail Kriese is looking for any suitable accommodation for the three. She said it has been suggested they look to a shelter, but stressed that is not a reasonable option.

Having exhausted his resources, Folden considers a shelter a possibility, provided it’s accessible. He just needs something to get him through until the new place in Chase is ready to take him in.

“I’ve called BC Housing and they say yes, your file is active and you are at the top of the list,” said Folden. “Which means that as soon as something comes available anywhere in B.C., they’ll call me and say you can move here…since I’ve gotten confirmation that I’ll be living in that building when it’s completed in Chase, anywhere I go now will just be a temporary housing situation to get me by.”

Anyone who may be able to offer assistance may contact Gail Kriese at 250-833-6100.

Read more: North Shuswap family shares story of wildfire home loss

Read more: More than 1,000 North Shuswap properties at risk following wildfire

Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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