For evacuees forced out of their homes in B.C., Christmas will look very different this year

For evacuees forced out of their homes in B.C., Christmas will look very different this year

by Sue Jones
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More than 1,000 people in British Columbia will be spending the Christmas holidays out of their homes this year, after being displaced from catastrophic flooding and fires in 2021, according to the province.

Merritt Flooding

A woman stands looking out at a flooded part of Merritt, B.C., on Nov. 15. According to the province, more than 1,000 evacuees will be spending the holidays out of their home this year. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Steven Bauwens and his wife are trying to make the best Christmas holiday they can for their young children more than a month after they were forced to flee in the middle of the night as floodwaters rushed into their home in Merritt, B.C. 

The family of four is currently living in a one-bedroom basement suite at a relative’s home in Merritt as a restoration company works to repair the damage to their home. 

This is the third place the Bauwens have stayed in since the flooding. With two young boys, he says the space feels cramped compared to the two-storey house the family is used to.

Merritt Evacuees

Steven Bauwens and his five-year-old son Mateo look at the flooding damage to their home in Merritt, B.C. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

“[The kids] are just like, ‘We want to go home. We miss our house. I want to run around,'” Bauwens said.

“It’s a little bit of adjusting. We gave the bedroom to the kids and we’re just making our own bedroom in the living room, on the couch.”

More than 1,000 evacuees not home this Christmas

Bauwens and his family are among the more than 1,000 evacuees still out of their homes over the Christmas holidays, according to the province.

Some, like the Bauwens, have been taken in by relatives, but others remain in hotel and motel rooms, some of which are hundreds of kilometres away from the communities they live in.

That is the case for Lee McLeod, 76, who has spent the last five weeks in a small motel room in Kelowna after his Merritt home was flooded. 

“When I first moved over here I had a hard time sleeping. I was kind of on the verge of tears, because of it,” McLeod said. 

Lee Mcleod In Merritt

Lee McLeod has been living in a hotel room in Kelowna, B.C., ever since his home in Merritt, B.C., was flooded in November. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

He has only been able to return to Merritt by bus once to see his property.

McLeod is hoping to find a temporary place to stay in Merritt until his home is livable again, but with a low vacancy rate in the city even before the floods, finding accommodation is difficult. 

“To not be home for Christmas, well that is going to be … It’s kind of a loneliness sort of a deal,” he said. “Loneliness and homesick.”

Helping evacuees over Christmas

Many are trying to help make the holidays brighter for evacuees in the communities they are staying in. In Abbotsford, B.C., the Gateway Community Church has turned part of the space into a donation centre.

Volunteers are putting together food hampers for evacuees and collecting toys for children who have been displaced with their families.

Abbotsford Donation Center

Volunteers prepare food and toys for evacuees at the a donation centre at the Gateway Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C. (Dillon Hodgin / CBC)

“We are doing what we can do to hopefully make what will probably be a very sad Christmas for a lot of people hopefully a happier one,” said Milt Walker, who is in charge of food distribution at the church.

Krista Spitters, an evacuee herself, came to the church to donate toys for other children currently out of their homes. 

Seeing how the community has come together is emotional, she said. She’s glad she has family to say with over Christmas.

“I could not imagine not having somewhere to go and having a family to lean on. I am very emotional. I really have a hard time thinking about those who don’t, and it hurts,” she said.

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