A 53-year-old resident of the Winters Hotel remains unaccounted for a month after the blaze that left two people dead and destroyed the building, prompting a Downtown Eastside charity to call for an external investigation into the agencies responsible for accounting for residents.
Dennis Guay, described by caseworkers at Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission as a happy-go-lucky musician who “wanted to teach everyone to play the guitar,” was first reported missing on April 26.
UGM said it decided to report Cool missing after he didn’t show up for a health appointment scheduled the week after the blaze.
“It was unlike him to not be where he planned to be,” said spokesperson Nicole Mucci. The staff’s repeated attempts to call, text and email Cool went unanswered. “Typically, he will respond within a day either by stopping by or messaging back.”
Of particular concern to his caseworkers is that Guay, who lived in the Downtown Eastside shelter in the fall of 2020, is hard of hearing.
“If his hearing aids were charging or not in his ears during the fire, it would be very difficult for him to hear what was happening around him,” Mucci said. “We are extremely worried.”
Union Gospel Mission is joining others, including the family of one of the deceased, in pushing for greater accountability of the agencies involved in the emergency response.
“We don’t want it to take two or three weeks after an emergency to realize that someone in our community hasn’t been accounted for,” Mucci said.
Mary Garlow, identified as a victim of the fire by her family, is among the residents mistakenly accounted for in the aftermath of the fire.
Two bodies were found at the hotel site during demolition on April 21. The BC Coroner’s Service said it has yet to “conclusively establish” the identity of either.
Vancouver Police Const. Tania Visintin said no others have been reported missing from the hotel.
Since 2017, a subsidiary of Atira Women’s Resource Society, Atira Property Management, operated the 71-occupant Winters Hotel as supportive housing with funds from BC Housing.
Caithlin Scarpelli, Atira’s director of communications, says the group doesn’t believe Guay died in the blaze because fire officials provided information that the second body found “was a male in his 20s,” she said Thursday in an email.
“We remain hopeful that Dennis will be found.”
Scarpelli said Atira staff were “repeatedly told” the resident had been living at UGM after the fire during community discussions that involved representatives from non-profits, the City of Vancouver and BC Housing.
However, Vancouver Fire Services told Postmedia Thursday it has not released any official information about the identity of bodies found at the site of the April 11 fire.
The fire department also said it was too dangerous for crews to reach the area where the fire ignited when they began fighting the flames, so it couldn’t determine if the building — which was later ordered to be demolished by the City of Vancouver’s chief building official — was empty.
It had been reported that the Winters Hotel was safely evacuated of all occupants during the fire, said an emailed statement by BC Housing. “Atira quickly provided the Vancouver Police Department with a list of residents in the building.”
BC Housing is working with Atira, police and the fire department “to better understand how the two residents were inaccurately accounted for during building evacuation, and if there are any necessary adjustments to policy and procedures.”
— With files from Susan Lazaruk and The Canadian Press
More news, fewer ads: Our in-depth journalism is possible thanks to the support of our subscribers. For just $3.50 per week, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.