Evacuated – a story of collaboration, courage and resilience

CLBC thanks Wendy Clarke for agreeing to share the lessons she learned during her evacuation from Williams Lake for the benefit of other families. CLBC also recognizes and thanks its dedicated service providers.

Williams Lake resident Wendy Clarke lived in uncertainty for five days. There were several forest fires approaching her home, many people in neighbouring areas were being evacuated and she knew that any day she may get the infamous knock at the door that all evacuees know and dread: the evacuation order.

Wendy didn’t want to sit around and wait; she had her daughter Kate to think about. Kate, a vibrant, happy 32-year-old woman lives in her own apartment in Williams Lake and receives supports through Community Living BC (CLBC)  and the Health Authority, and she would require extra planning in order to leave her home.

“At this point many of the people that support Kate were evacuated from their own homes,” says Wendy. “Kate’s services are run through a Person Centered Society and as one of the members of that society, I knew it wasn’t fair to ask others who were in the middle of their own crisis to care for Kate. I needed to plan our own exit strategy.”

CLBC estimates about 250 people who receive its supports live in current evacuation zones. CLBC staff in the Interior and the North have been monitoring changing fire conditions and alerts each day, over weekends, and working extensive hours to be in touch with service providers in evacuation zones as well as other agencies in the rest of the province to find temporary services including a place to live and community programming.

The Williams Lake Association for Community Living and the local CLBC office responded quickly to Wendy’s situation and worked to get a space in a group home in Prince George through another CLBC-funded service provider, AiMHi.

Wendy packed up her things, picked up Kate and headed for Prince George, not knowing when she would be able to return, or if she would even have a home to go back to. “The people at AiMHi were so nice; we were able to stay in a fully accessible group home so Kate would be able to shower and get the service she needs that are almost impossible to find in a hotel,” said Wendy.

As it became evident that the threat of fire in her home town would not end quickly, Wendy knew she wanted to go to Kelowna, where her sons live.

CLBC staff in Kamloops started looking for a suitable residence for Kate in Kelowna. They worked with local Kelowna agencies and the Health Authority to find a home that was fully accessible. Once a home was found, health services jumped in to make arrangements with the nurses at the home Kate would be living in.

“CLBC worked with the local agencies to make sure everything was in place,” said Wendy. “We needed someone from 10 – 4 particularity for her medical needs and they were able to accommodate. It was a life saver for me,” says Wendy.

During her time in Kelowna, support staff helped Kate take her mind off the stressful circumstances by participating local activities like sailing.

After finding a place to live, it was important to make sure Kate had the opportunity for as many community activities as possible. Fortunately, two agencies responded to the emergency request. STRIVE Support Services worked with Kate at the beginning and then Access Human Resources was able to offer support moving forward.  The CLBC Kelowna staff worked closely with Wendy, Kate, the Health Authority and local agencies to make sure Kate’s services were maintained.

Kelowna CLBC Analyst Selena McKay was one of the people who helped coordinate resources. “It was truly a collaborative effort,” says Selena. “Kate’s larger support network rose to the occasion as well – her mother Wendy and support staff from Williams Lake who also happened to be in the area due to evacuations; they made themselves available to us as a resource for questions and training so we could find the right fit for Kate.”

Wendy wanted to make sure Kate had opportunities to get out and about while in Kelowna.  “My van is fully accessible,” said Wendy. “So I left it with Kate’s support staff and they were great, Kate was able to do things that she normally wouldn’t be able to do like sailing, hiking and biking.”

“I really appreciated the approach taken by the crew at Access, along with Wendy,” said Selena. “They decided to frame Kate’s time in Kelowna as a ‘vacation’ to help keep her mind off of the stressful circumstances. They supported her to engage in fun activities the Okanagan is famous for, including enjoying our parks and beaches.”

“We were evacuated for 21 days,” said Wendy. “Kate was resilient throughout the whole experience: she was thrown into a new setting with new people looking after her and they made her feel comfortable right away. All the things that people put in place for us was done on short notice and a lot of it was done after hours on people’s own time. “

Kate and Wendy are now back in Williams Lake, yet the threat of being evacuated still remains. “As soon as I got home, I made an evacuation plan for Kate and my family, should we have to leave again,” said Wendy. “I have lists of people’s roles and responsibilities, who to call and the routes I plan to take. In an emergency, the people you rely on may be unavailable due to being evacuated themselves; so my plan also includes contacts outside my local area. I want to be prepared because you never know when you might get that knock on your door telling you to evacuate.”

CLBC service providers have emergency response plans, and CLBC also supports families like Wendy’s who provide services through a micro board to make the plans they need. Any families that have questions about contingency plans for family members can contact their service provider or local CLBC office.

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