ROGERS PARK — A “possibly suspicious” fire in a Glenwood Avenue apartment building has left 36 residents without homes.
Residents of the building at 6540 N. Glenwood Ave. were forced out of their apartments Dec. 9 when a fire broke out in one of the complex’s lower levels. The fire started about 7 p.m. that night, forcing residents to flee, with firefighters rescuing others. No one was injured, according to reports.
“I heard my neighbor say, ‘There’s a fire,'” said resident Mandi White. “I thought it was a small kitchen fire, but no. I got out with my cat and the clothes on my back.”
The fire was deemed “potentially suspicious” based on evidence and statements from residents, Fire Department spokesperson Larry Langford said.
Residents said they suspect a renter in the building who was facing eviction and had been heard in recent weeks threatening to burn the building, White and neighbor Linda Cousino said.
The cause of the fire was an open flame, but Fire Department officials don’t know if it was an accident or purposeful, Langford said. Evidence was turned over to police, who investigate potential acts of arson, he said.
Investigators are looking into the incident as “noncriminal” fire at this time, Police Department spokesperson Kellie Bartoli said.
The building has been cited for numerous code violations, records show. They include a failed inspection in September, when inspectors issued eight violations for not having a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in the laundry room, among other infractions.
All 36 residents of the building have been displaced. Some of the residents were able to get back into their apartments this week to retrieve items, but many are still in need of housing, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said.
Rogers Park-based Housing Opportunities For Women is working with residents to find emergency housing and eventually secure permanent housing if need be, Hadden said. The nonprofit is seeking donations to help. Donations can be made by clicking here.
Heartland Alliance is also compiling an Amazon wishlist for the building’s residents that will be made public this week, Hadden said. The ward office is working with the Rogers Park Builders Group to find emergency housing.
Some residents, including White, have launched a GoFundMe to help pay for emergency housing. The co-owner of Edgewater’s Helix cafe also started a GoFundMe for an employee who lived in the Glenwood building and is now without housing.
“We hate to see this type of incident,” Hadden said in a Facebook update to constituents. “Right now, the focus is on finding secure housing. People have lost their homes. They’re going to need community support.”
The majority of the residents of 6540 N. Glenwood Ave. receive rental assistance, Hadden said. For some, it took years to find housing as secure as they had in the Glenwood building.
Cousino lived in the building for 21 years along with her brother, who died recently. She was let back into the building on Wednesday, when she said she grabbed her brother’s ashes and a few other belongings that she could keep on her.
But without permanent housing, there is not much Cousino can hold on to at this time, she said.
“I can’t figure out how to get any place to live,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out what to do on our own.”
White came back to the building Wednesday with her cat, Napoleon. They had been staying in a motel thanks to a $500 stipend from the Red Cross — but “that was gone days ago,” she said.
With Napoleon in a carrying case, White grabbed a few other belongings and said she was setting out to stay with a friend in the suburbs. But that could only be a temporary solution, she said. A homeless shelter she was pointed to wouldn’t take in a cat, she said.
White said that while she waited to get back into her apartment to retrieve her medication, she had to pay nearly $600 for blood thinners and other drugs that insurance wouldn’t cover. The cost has eaten into her ability to pay for housing, she said.
White has lived in the Glenwood building for two years and experienced homelessness before moving in. The prospect of facing that again is terrifying, she said.
“I was homeless before this,” White said. “Little by little, I turned it into a beautiful home. It’s all gone. I’ll have to start from scratch again.”
The fire-damaged Glenwood Avenue building is uninhabitable but does not need to be condemned, Hadden said. Its owner plans to rehab the building and keep it a rental, she said.
The building owner could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
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