Forty-four people lost their homes on Tuesday when a Seattle Housing Authority apartment building in West Seattle caught fire. Twenty-eight of them, mostly women and children, have been sleeping in a gymnasium at the Delridge Community Center, and wondering where they'll go next.
On Tuesday afternoon, a group of women enjoyed a homemade lunch that a friend brought over to the emergency shelter set up by the American Red Cross. They served it on injera bread and paper plates and gladly shared it with visitors who hadn't just lost their homes.
Hawoluul Ahmed was at the grocery store Tuesday afternoon and came home to find her whole building on fire.
"We have our lives, and we're thankful for that, but everything we had was in that house, and it burned down," Ahmed said. "The only thing Seattle Housing can do for us now is give us answers."
Ahmed and her son have lived in the Seattle Housing Authority's Lam Bow Apartments for three years. She drives a shuttle van at Sea-Tac Airport.
She said she's frustrated that the housing authority isn't putting families with children in a motel instead of cots on a crowded basketball court.
"We're sleeping in a shelter and we don't know where we're going to be after here, what is going to happen after here. We need answers."
Other victims of the fire found places to stay with friends or family.
Ahmed said she dropped her 7-year-old, who suffers from asthma, at his grandparent's house to sleep on an air mattress in the living room, so he wouldn't have to stay in a dusty gymnasium. She said that house was too crowded for her to stay there as well.
"There's no place for me to stay there. It's eight people in three bedrooms."
SHA officials said they're working as fast as they can to find replacement housing for everyone who lost a home in the fire.
"Our staff are absolutely intending to visit all the families at the shelter as soon as they have information to share, which, as I say, is taking place over the course of these 24 hours," Seattle Housing Authority spokesperson Kerry Coughlin said.
She said that the agency aims to find housing quickly and make sure that it suits the residents' needs.
"We are trying to get people out of the shelter situation, but in many cases moving them 2 or 3 times is even more disruptive to the children in school and the residents," she said.
Red Cross volunteer Kim Nelson said the charity expects to operate the Delridge shelter for a week, or as long as there's a need.
"A shelter is an important place to be running, but it's a hard place to stay," Nelson said. "Imagine being in a bedroom with 27 other people."
She said the shelter is being swamped with donations of stuff, which often prove to be unusable and go to waste. She said the Red Cross prefers cash donations.
"That sounds very crass and cold, but people here have very particular needs and very particular things that they have lost that they need to replace," she said.
Coughlin said the burned apartment building, erected in 1970, is probably a total loss, but the 100-plus firefighters who responded kept the fire from spreading to the neighboring SHA apartment building.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.