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Polish shelter fire kills 23

May 24 2009
Authorities order a safety check on premises In mid-April, a blaze ended the lives of 23 people waiting for social housing in Poland's shelter for homeless, and left 20 more seriously injured. The fire in town of Kamien Pomorski in north-western Poland has sparked a debate within the country about the state of government-provided shelters for those who cannot afford a home. The three-storey communist-era building became an inferno on early April morning. The cause is still unknown. Investigators noted that the hostel had previously experienced two fires caused by inhabitants attempting to warm themselves with electric heaters. As the building originally housed temporary gas workers, there were almost no facilities. When the local government acquired it several years ago, it undertook no renovations: there was no fire alarm; and officials negligently allowed people to live in the building despite numerous violations of safety rules. The Krakow Post has estimated there are about 300,000 homeless people in Poland. Officially the Polish authorities and local governments are responsible for taking care of those in need, but according to World Socialist Web Site, only a third of the homeless are housed in hostels provided by local governments. The shelter at Kamien Pomorski was one of these typically overcrowded institutions, with 77 registered residents at the time of the fire. The tragedy at Kamien Pomorski was Poland's deadliest fire since 55 people were killed in a blaze at a psychiatric hospital in Gorna Grupa in 1980. As Poland was in an official three-day mourning period, interior minister Grzegorz Schetyna ordered a detailed check of all shelters in the country.