Gatineau families living in hotels after 2018 tornadoes

Five Outaouais families are still being housed in hotels one year after three tornadoes struck the Ottawa-Gatineau area, the Canadian Red Cross revealed in a relief update Friday.

Attempts to relocate displaced families is difficult because of a lack of affordable housing in the Outaouais region, said Pascal Mathieu, the vice president of the Canadian Red Cross for Quebec. 

"We have worked a lot for the last year...to help [tenants] find new places to live in, to rent," Mathieu said. "It's still a challenge in the Gatineau area where there's very few vacancies."

Tornadoes touched down in the region September 2018, affecting more than 2,000 people in the Outaouais alone. The Canadian Red Cross housed about 1,000 people in the aftermath of the disaster.

We're just hoping that there's not going to be a new [disaster] tomorrow. - Pascal Mathieu

Earlier this year, Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin called the shortage of affordable housing in the city "a crisis within a crisis", adding that Gatineau was already feeling the strain before 2017's floods — and the tornadoes that followed — displaced more people.

"It's becoming harder and harder to find a place for these new disaster victims to help them find a place to live," Mathieu said.

Tornado relief

The aid organization said it has provided financial support to 67 families to close the gap between their old and new rent costs.

One recovery office also remains open in Gatineau to provide assistance. 

In total, the Canadian Red Cross raised $5.8 million for tornado relief in Gatineau — $3 million of which came from the Quebec government. The organization has spent $4 million of the funds so far.

Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC News

The tornadoes caused more than $295 million in insured damage to homes, businesses and vehicles, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said Monday.

But one concern, Mathieu said, is a potential funding shortfall from the possibility of more disasters to come.

"Right now at this time, we're still helping families from the flood, a few families from the tornadoes, so it's all adding up. We're just hoping that there's not going to be a new one tomorrow."

More donations than expected

Despite concerns to secure affordable housing for those affected, Mathieu said a boost in donations to the Red Cross has allowed the aid organization to support more people — like those who only suffered minor damage to their properties.

"Right now we're in the outreach period trying to get in touch with these people, assess their need and provide them with additional financial assistance," Mathieu said.

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He said the additional funding came from money donated over the winter and through the spring, so the Red Cross can help "people which we couldn't afford to help at first."

As for those who are still struggling financially, Mathieu hopes those affected by last year's devastation will reach out to the organization. 

"We are talking about reaching people whose housing has been damaged, even in a [minor] way, to offer them financial support," Mathieu said in French.