Toronto Mayor John Tory says hundreds of families displaced from a St. James Town apartment building after a six-alarm electrical fire are in need of clothing and money, adding it will likely be several weeks before they can return home.
Tory made the plea to retailers and residents with new or lightly used clothing during a news conference at Toronto city hall Tuesday afternoon, which came a week after the fire occurred. Approximately 1,500 residents from more than 500 units were forced out of the building. He said there is an urgency with the school year beginning next week.
“For these children, if you can imagine the dislocation of being out of your home and still having the excitement and the anxiety of going to school next Tuesday and having the further challenge now of not having access to your clothing, this is something we want to help with,” he said, adding items are needed for approximately 320 children as young as four years old and teens.
WATCH: Some residents confronted building staff for denying them access to their units without signing a legal form, while Mayor John Tory asks public for donations. Kamil Karamali reports.
“We need the people of Toronto to step up and help us with something they can do more easily than the City can do.”
Tory said the clothing donations are being accepted by Community Matters Toronto and Community Corner, both organizations which have a presence in the St. James Town neighbourhood.
He said the Canadian Red Cross is accepting financial donations to support the “unmet basic needs” of residents in need. Tory said donations can be made through redcross.ca or 1-800-418-1111.
Tory also said the City of Toronto is continuing to look for units to house residents displaced from the building. He said anyone with a suite or apartment unit can contact officials at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While there is little damage to the units, officials said residents won’t be allowed to return for a considerable time until the necessary repairs can be made.
“We’re talking here about, in the case of many of these people, weeks … multiple weeks,” he said.
“It’s a long enough period of time that we can’t just sort of assume people need to stay a few more days at a hotel. That’s why we need to make the appeal.”
Toronto Fire Services Chief Matthew Pegg said on Tuesday the preliminary cause of the fire was a major electrical system failure. He said investigators likely won’t have more conclusive information for about six to eight weeks.
Meanwhile, Tory said he met with the building owners on Monday. He said they are cooperating with officials and are working to support affected tenants.
“They must work as quickly as possible to get this building back up, safe and inhabitable and they must do everything possible to see in the meantime that their tenants are looked after,” Tory said.
“The tenants … had nothing to do with this fire.”
On Monday, tenants attempted to gain escorted access to their units since the building is closed off. However, many were upset about the wording contained in a waiver, which talked about liability.
A tenant who identified himself as Chris told Global News he lived in the building for 10 years and said for the most part, it has been a positive experience. Chris said he didn’t sign the document.
“If there’s something in the air, give us a mask to protect us. Don’t tell me I can’t sue you,” he said.
“I didn’t really have any plan on suing anybody anyway, but now I can’t get my stuff? You’re not letting me in? And they didn’t give us a page until we got to the front.”
Tory was asked about issues with waiver. He called Monday’s issue with the paperwork a “bump,” and said officials and building managers worked to address the concerns on Tuesday.
Some residents said they are considering legal action in response to damages.
— With files from Shallima Maharaj