NANAIMO — A beloved community hub is closed off after a fire, leaving many at-risk and vulnerable families without the services they need to survive.
The Franklyn St. Gym, which housed the Neutral Zone drop-in centre and was used for community events like the toy drive and flu shots, suffered fire and water damage in a blaze just after midnight on Thursday.
“It's a big loss for a non-profit that doesn't have a whole lot of funds,” Tillicum Lelum executive director Grace Elliott Nielsen told NanaimoNewsNOW.
The Neutral Zone help up to 200 people and provided dinners for families struggling to put food on their table. Kids can also play in the gyms and attend services to help them grow in a safe space.
“This is going to be a problem for a lot of the families and children at a time when we're trying to get away from homelessness and poverty,” Nielsen said. “This is going to be another difficulty that is going to hit our community.”
Nielsen said they're now desperately searching for a new location to ensure no youth drop out of programs. “We're always worried about the teenagers and suicide, drugs and the cost of food.”
Neutral Zone workers have made inquiries to the community and Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools to find a new home, but Nielsen said they're still in the early stages.
It's also unclear if insurance will be enough to cover all of the damage.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue deemed the blaze suspicious and turned the investigation over to Nanaimo RCMP. Nielsen said their alarms went off early Thursday morning because it appeared someone tried to break into two different doors. She believed they did ultimately gain access.
Nanaimo RCMP Cst. Gary O'Brien said it appears the fire started outside near a side-door and most likely extended up the wall into the attic, where it triggered the sprinklers and caused water damage.
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