It took more than five hours of waiting and braving the cold and rainy conditions, but Howsan Rashed said he felt all kinds of emotions when he finally got access to his apartment at 650 Parliament St. this Tuesday afternoon.
“My 3-year-old baby was born in here,” said Rashed as he pulled a suitcase stuffed mainly with winter boots, jackets and sweaters for himself and his son. “I’d say I had missed my apartment so bad. It felt good to be back in there and remembering everything about our time here.”
Rashed and hundreds of displaced residents of the St. James Town building are streaming back into the neighbourhood this week to retrieve necessary items from their apartments. The apartment complex has been on lockdown since the Aug. 21 fire that has kept all of its over 1,500 occupants away, as repair work is underway.
Many residents had initially left with simply a few items as they didn’t anticipate to stay away for too long. But last month property management effectively shut down any hopes of returning soon, saying more work needs to be done and it might take until the new year before residents can reoccupy their apartments.
Tenants who want to gain access to the building have to sign a waiver that acknowledges they’re entering the building at their own risk, and won’t sue management if they suffer any injuries or get their belongings damaged in the process.
They said there was a lot of dust all over the place in their two-bedroom apartment, but “thank God” nothing was broken or missing.
Any special sentiment for a place they’ve been away from for a while?
“We have been basically homeless for the past two months. Can’t feel any emotions right now,” said Ali as he and his brother stuffed a boxed-up TV on top of a pile of other stuff in the car.
“Just come in, get stuff and get out of here. Hopefully all this will be over soon and we can return.”
Property management says residents can line up for access into the building all week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But on the second day of the process, many weren’t lucky enough to be called.
“They should employ more people to help run things faster,” said Holly Kwan, who noted she had stood in line for six hours. “How am I going to leave the job again to come back here tomorrow?”
Abhimanyu Sharma said he had driven in from Peel region, where his family has found shelter at a friend’s place after a spell in a downtown hotel earlier in the aftermath of the fire. His wife is set to fly to India next week, and he had come to retrieve the paperwork needed for the trip, in addition to winter clothing.
“Oh God, now it’s more kilometres to drive tomorrow and another day wasted. Too much headache,” he said as he realized he wouldn’t get in Tuesday.
“These last two months we are used to being frustrated, but they need to have more staff and maybe more elevators working inside.”
Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo