News from Vancouver: Resident of fire-ravaged hotel still missing

Dennis Guay has been missing since a fire destroyed the building where he lived. Those who know and love him say that he is a kind and hopeful man, known for his storytelling and guitar playing, who deserves to be remembered.

On April 11, flames ripped through the Winters Hotel in Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood, a single-room occupancy building that houses 71 people. Firefighters rescued several residents from the fire, but were unable to thoroughly search the building. The next day, BC Housing said no one who lived there was missing. The Crown Corporation does not own or operate the building, but provided funding and was working with the property management company to find shelter for displaced residents.

‘I FEEL LUCKY TO HAVE BEEN PART OF HIS LIFE’

Workers from the Union Gospel Mission, an organization that works with people in the Downtown Eastside, helped Guay move from the UGM emergency shelter to the hotel in 2020, according to spokeswoman Nicole Mucci.

“Despite living through difficult circumstances, he was very resilient and kept an open heart. He maintained a sense of hope and positivity which was refreshing for those of us who had the privilege of knowing him. Dennis was a great storyteller and was generous in share his life experience and wisdom. He was also very accomplished professionally, he was very intelligent and educated,” reads a statement from the worker who knows Guay best.

“Not only did he love playing the guitar, he had an incredible ear for music and particularly loved hard rock. He was an incredibly kind, warm and patient man. I feel lucky to have been a part of his life.”

His family asks for privacy, but provided a statement to Mucci echoing similar sentiments.

“Den is a deeply loved member of our family. Our hearts go out to his kind nature and kind soul who saw only the good in others,” it reads.

RESIDENT REPORTED MISSING BY COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION

The organization’s social workers kept in touch with Guay over the years, hitting base weekly and working with him when he needed help getting hearing aids or scheduling appointments.

“After the fire happened, one of our case managers tried to contact him, tried to call him, text him, send him emails. Usually, if we didn’t reach him that day, he would get back to us within a few days.

“And when that didn’t happen, our case management team started to get a little nervous, started to worry a little bit.”

By April 26, there was still no word from Guay, and UGM staff reported him missing to the Vancouver Police Department.

“The investigation is active and ongoing,” spokesman Const said. Tania Visintin in an email to CTV News on Friday.

‘IT’S REALLY SCARY TO THINK ABOUT HOW EASY SOMEONE CAN FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS’

Demolition of the fire-ravaged building was halted on April 23 when crews discovered a body. Several hours later, the remains of a second person were found. None of the people who died have been officially identified. However, the tragic discovery raised questions about the housing provider’s earlier statements that everyone who lived there was accounted for.

Those questions linger for Mucci, the UGM social workers and Guay’s family.

“We don’t have any real answers right now about what happened to Dennis,” says Mucci.

“We realized that Dennis was not around and was not taken into account because our case managers had a very personal relationship with him. They loved him, cared for him and kept in touch with him. But there are people, maybe living in SRO, which I don’t. I don’t have those same kinds of connections or deep ties to different organizations. And it’s really scary to think how easily someone could fall through the cracks.”

Mary-Ann Garlow, another resident of the Winters Hotel, was reported missing eleven days after the fire. Her family has said that she is one of two people who died inside the building. Her family has also raised questions about how and why Garlow was not properly accounted for.

Mary Anne Garlow’s family identified her as one of the people whose remains were found in a building in Vancouver’s Gastown that was destroyed by fire.

The Winters Hotel is operated by Atira Property Management Inc. After two bodies were discovered last month, CEO Janice Abbott told CTV News that the organization’s staff were devastated by the news, though it wasn’t entirely unexpected. because Garlow had been reported missing.

“It’s not clear to us who the second body is,” he said at the time.

CTV News has contacted Atira Property Management Inc. to ask why Guay was not reported missing sooner. This story will be updated if a response is received.

In a statement on Saturday, a BC Housing spokesperson said it worked with the police, fire department and Atira immediately after the fire to confirm the safety of residents.

Work is underway to “better understand how the two residents were incorrectly accounted for during the evacuation of the building, and whether there are necessary adjustments to policy and procedures for buildings managed by BC Housing or publicly owned,” it says. the notice.

‘WE NEVER WANT TO SEE THAT HAPPEN AGAIN’

Mucci emphasizes that he is not asking blame questions and that an internal investigation is underway. But he does say that Guay’s case raises important questions about how to plan for future emergencies, particularly those that affect vulnerable or marginalized people.

“I spend every day in this neighborhood, and people are often treated like they’re forgettable, they’re constantly stigmatized, they’re overlooked. I’ve been told many times that they feel forgotten. And no one deserves that. And Dennis doesn’t know he deserves that and his family doesn’t deserve that,” he said.

“Nobody’s family deserves to go weeks and weeks without knowing what happened to their loved one. It’s been weeks since this family has shut down and we don’t want that to happen again.”

Guay was in contact with his family and connected to a community organization, and his absence was noted and ultimately reported. But Mucci says that’s not the case for everyone.

“The sad reality is that there are so many people in our neighborhood who might not have those relationships and it might take a little longer for them to be noticed if they weren’t accounted for. People aren’t disposable. People matter, each the person.” matter,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if you live in an SRO, are homeless, struggle with addiction, or have mental health barriers – people as individuals matter. Each of us deserves to be thought of, loved and cared for.”

The investigation into the fire is ongoing. The fire department has said preliminary findings suggest it was caused by unattended candles. The building’s sprinkler system was disabled at the time, having been activated by a fire three days earlier.

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