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Victoria man rescued twice from sunken houseboat, now facing homelessness

B.C. houseboat owner loses everything
WATCH: B.C. houseboat owner loses everything

The community is banding together in Victoria to help a now-homeless 66-year-old man, after his small houseboat sank in the Gorge Waterway with all of his possessions.

Tiferet Welch says her brother, Barry, had been living in the small craft for about five years when a strong current caused it to capsize early in the morning of Dec. 27.

About 4:30 a.m., a passerby heard someone calling for help from the water, and saw Barry clinging to the edge of the craft. The Good Samaritan called 911, and emergency crews arrived to rescue him, according to Victoria police.

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First responders warmed him up before taking him to hospital, but as soon as he could, Barry was back at the boat — now in Portage Inlet, thanks to strong currents — looking for the one thing most valuable to him.

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“My brother has one true attachment on this earth, and it’s his dog,” she said. “He tells me that he went back to the water and he went in the water to try and find his dog … As if the dog could be swimming all that time but nevertheless, that’s what he did.”

Victoria Fire Chief Dan Wood posted video of first responders back at the Gorge the afternoon after the boat sank, once again pulling Barry from the frigid waters.

It turns out his dog, Milo, was rescued earlier in the day, and taken to animal rescue; the two have since been reunited.

But Welch says her brother’s problems are just beginning.

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“Six weeks ago my brother had a series of strokes,” she said. “His speech has been impaired, affected, he has trouble word-finding, and his answers to questions are much more brief than they would have been.”

What’s more, his boat — which Welch said brought Barry a “sense of pride and security” — may be a total loss. Welch said a kind fisherman has offered to try and repair the motor, but for the time being, Barry is stuck couch surfing and trying to get shelter through BC Housing.

“He’s really joined the ranks now of the homeless, again. And according to one survey that’s posted out of Victoria’s government there are 1,500 people who are homeless just in Victoria,” she said.

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“So he joins that queue, and who knows how long that wait is going to be, or indeed if the application is successful.”

Welch has started a GoFundMe to try and help her brother get back on his feet, which has collected about $2,300 so far.

Barry isn’t alone in living aboard a boat in Victoria’s waterways, though the city bans the practice for safety reasons.

“They are dangerous, and people are heating them, cooking in them,” said Wood.

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Bylaw officers frequently hit the waters to let people know about the short-term live-aboard limits, though have stopped short of seeking enforcement orders to remove the boats.

-With files from Brad MacLeod