A major fire shut down Main Street for the second time in a month this past weekend and the Point Douglas area has now lost three businesses and numerous housing units, prompting the community to voice some concerns.
Over the past month, fires have hit Main Street hard and the most recent one happened Saturday morning, sending one person to the hospital and causing the temporary evacuation of a nearby highrise.
Bits of charred debris are strewn around the badly damaged building and it has been declared a complete loss, which is just one of many losses for the community of Point Douglas.
“We’re losing buildings, we’re losing the businesses particularly, we’re losing housing here, ” community activist Sel Burrows told Global News.
“We can’t afford to lose more buildings like this. These are the places that people are comfortable living in and the rents are really low and the private sector does provide a huge proportion of housing for the low-cost housing in the city, and we must defend that.”
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The residential building that met its fate on Saturday is just a block away from the scene of another major fire in the neighbourhood.
On Feb. 11, Main Street lost three businesses to fire, the remains of which have yet to be cleared. A nearby apartment building was also damaged and has now been boarded up.
The stretch of Main Street just north of the underpass is now dotted with derelict buildings and vacant lots.
“The thought of having more empty spaces in the inner city. It’s the vacant houses that have been burning,” said Burrows.
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It’s a problem Point Douglas resident Elaine Bishop has seen get worse in recent years. “It’s a message that says there’s need, there’s an unmet need, rather than a sense of community energy,” Bishop said.
“The big fire with the three businesses, those were three thriving businesses in the community and the community that needs more business, not less.”
Bishop was also the former head of the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre and she said local community groups are doing all they can, but it’s difficult to keep up.
She says the loss of housing and businesses is putting pressure on an already struggling neighbourhood.
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“They contribute to a downward trend rather than to developing the community to be the sort of good, liveable place we would like it to be.”
Burrows and Bishop both want to see more intervention from the government to help the community recover.
“We’re looking at having meetings of everybody who’s involved in the community to talk about what can we do to make something healthy come out of this horrible situation,” Burrows said.
“We can’t just sit and wait for people to come along and develop this, and you know what will happen if this sits empty for too long? We’ll have more of a sense of decay rather than a sense of joy and creation, which we need in the inner city.”
The community would like to see more affordable housing and programming.
“There is not enough sustainable, low-income, good-quality housing. I mean, you can get crap housing, but even Manitoba housing isn’t filling all of its vacant places promptly, although there are over 4,000 people on the waiting list.” said Bishop.
The cause of the fire on Feb. 11 is still under investigation, but police have linked Saturday’s fire to arson.
— with files from Global’s Iris Dyck
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