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‘Make people accountable’: Evacuated Kelowna residents defeated by UBCO build

Hadgraft Wilson Place is home to more than 80 residents

Residents at 1360 Bertram Street in Kelowna are scrambling to move after they were told on Easter Sunday, March 31, that they would have to evacuate by 6 p.m. on April 2.

The affordable rental apartment is run by BC Housing and Pathways Abilities Society, which arranged to pay for hotel rooms for evacuated residents for the week, but what happens after that is still up in the air.

Kelowna’s Fire Chief made the decision to evacuate the building as construction on the University of BC Okanagan downtown Kelowna campus caused damage to neighbouring buildings, including the Royal Canadian Legion.

Hadgraft Wilson Place is home to many people living with disabilities. Jon Biggs is a resident living with Down Syndrome. His mom Jan teared up while talking with Black Press.

“He’s just done splendidly and he surprised us completely,” Jan said she honestly thought her son would spend one night in the suite by himself and want to move back in with them. Instead, Biggs has flourished living on his own and having his best friend next door.

“He walks downtown, he gets his own groceries, he mops his floors. I said, ‘Jon, your house is cleaner than mine’.”

Biggs is temporarily staying at the Prestige Hotel downtown, after being evacuated from his unit. Jan said he was confused at first and had a good cry Sunday night, but he’s doing well now that he knows where he’s sleeping for the week.

Natasha Chance moved into the building in May 2023 after spending about six years living on the streets. Having spoken to other residents in the building with similar histories, Chance worries some people might hurt themselves if they end up on the streets again.

“I pay $375 in rent. I can’t afford anything else and that’s why this is working for me,” Chance said. She’s also found a lot of support from her neighbours and is sad to be leaving the community.

Monique Saebels, also a resident in the building, said the community that has been built in Hadgraft is a strong one. Residents are keeping connected through a Facebook group and she’s hoping everyone can gather in public spaces at the hotels to keep them connected.

“Make people accountable, make the city accountable, make UBC accountable,” Saebels said, addressing the residents of Kelowna. “All of us are left out right now and we don’t know what’s going to happen. At least, please be a voice for us.”

UBCO sent an email statement regarding the current situation at the construction site of the downtown campus.

“Given the complex nature of this project, UBC and UBC Properties Trust will take time to study the most recent engineering reports and consult with the city to establish the appropriate next steps. We will share that information as it becomes available. UBC and UBC Properties Trust are committed to working closely with the city, the Pathways Abilities Society and BC Housing. We are in regular communication with all parties and will provide information and expertise throughout this period.”

Tenants at Hadgraft Wilson Place were told they would be updated on the situation at the end of the week.

Black Press Media reached out to Pathways for more information, but has yet to receive a response by the time of publication.

READ MORE: UBCO build evacuates Kelowna apartments