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A disastrous fire turned out to have a silver lining for the George Paul family.
A May 11 fire totaled the two-story Village Street residence where the four-member family had lived since last fall. The family lost a good rental arrangement that included sweat equity in renovations, plus all their belongings, including the bassinet and layette of their newborn son.
However, at the time of the fire, Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority was in the midst of reviewing Juneau housing applications to fill a rare vacancy in its subsidized home ownership program. By coincidence, as staff reviewed the applications, they found George Paul, 52, had had an application on file since 1997. This gave him seniority during selection for a single-family home.
``Everyone here desperately wanted to help this family,'' said Housing Authority Executive Director Blake Kazama. ``Ultimately it came down to a combination of circumstances, coincidence and sheer luck that allowed us to provide a happy ending to this sad story.''
Staff found that George Paul was an honorably discharged veteran who had been awarded the Order of the Purple Heart. His veteran status equaled an extra point under the Housing Authority's criteria of rating candidates.
``When we added up all the points, the Pauls came out one point ahead of all the other applicants,'' said Kathy Hansen, administrative officer for the Housing Authority. In just two hours, Paul was able to provide the requisite $1,500 down payment, a sum the family obtained from Tlingit-Haida Central Council.
George Paul, his wife Velma, 43, baby Jaden George, and daughter Lenora John, 16, moved into their three-bedroom home in the S'it'Tuwan Subdivision on May 19. The development was built in 1997 off Threadneedle Street in the Mendenhall Valley. It contains 30 homes and 20 apartments, said Barbra Holian of the Housing Authority.
``It's a nice house. It's equivalent to a five-star energy-rated home,'' Holian said.
Born in Angoon, George Paul works on boat charters in the summer and began working in February as a food service employee for Alaska Airlines. He estimated possessions lost in the fire totaled $27,000. The fire began while the family was going to a well-baby checkup.
``We can't believe it yet,'' said George Paul this morning of his family's turn of fortune. ``We had a lot of help from Alaska Airlines and from local people. I want to thank everybody who helped us out; some sent stuff without a return address so I couldn't thank them directly. We all want to express our appreciation, including baby Jaden.''
Immediately after the blaze, the Paul family turned to the American Red Cross for aid, said Lana Tolls, executive director for Southeast Alaska. They were so satisfied with Red Cross services that ``George volunteered to do speaking engagements for us,'' Tolls said.
The Red Cross supplied clothing for the whole family, four weeks of grocery money, gas for their car, three weeks of rent and a freezer.