September 24, 2022

Thousands of survivors from California wildfires struggle to find housing

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From WN

After thousands were forced to flee their homes from when the Camp Fire became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, a number are still unsure where to go on Wednesday, according to NBC News.

Victor Marino said he has been living in a tent and accepting donations from people on a Facebook group for survivors which allowed him to have a few nights in a motel, but after Thanksgiving, he is unsure where he’s going to sleep.

There are 13,000 more evacuees like Marino who have applied to FEMA for disaster assistance to help with housing after leaving their homes in Butte County.

There are at least 81 people dead and still more than 850 people missing as of Tuesday night, but many of those who lost their homes are stuck in limbo outside their former towns.

“There are so many people displaced out of their homes — where’s everybody going to go?” said Marino, who previously was a property manager and handyman at a trailer park in Magalia.

Marino said the federal agency said he would receive $847 for one month of housing assistance, but since he doesn’t have a banking account, FEMA had to send it to him at his former address – even though that’s the same trailer park he had to flee.

“I’m very grateful for the money they are going to help me with, but I’m going to have to jump through hoops all over again,” he said.

FEMA said it has given out more than $4.95 million in housing assistance for Butte County so far, including money for temporary housing including hotels, rental apartments, Airbnbs, and for home repairs.

Survivors from the Camp Fire can apply for assistance at a disaster recovery center FEMA established in Chico, where they can also seek help from private disaster relief efforts, including the California Community Foundation who has raised $5 million to help survivors with housing costs, medical assistance, and other necessities.

Residents say even with the help, the process of getting assistance from FEMA can be confusing and full of red-tape.

FEMA said it was focusing on helping those without homeowner’s or rental insurance first, but Paradise resident Nichole Jolly, who was renting and her apartment was destroyed and is also displaced from her home in Magalia that has smoke damage so she’s waiting for her insurance company to assess the issues so she can return home, was turned down by FEMA.

They offered her a low-interest disaster loan, but Jolly, 34, said she can’t afford to take one out since she doesn’t “want to go into debt.”

Pastor of the East Ave Church in Chico, Ron Zimmer, said there are many more in similar situations since “the lines are so long, it takes most of a day just to register with FEMA and nobody knows exactly what FEMA is supposed to do for them.”

Even those who do get help, still need to find a place in the region that was already suffering from a major housing crisis before the disaster.

“There aren’t a whole bunch of vacant homes to be rented or thousands of hotel rooms at that scale,” said Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, which advocates for affordable housing.

FEMA is working with California officials to transport manufactured housing and trailers to the area while “evaluating each survivors’ housing needs,” according to FEMA spokesman Bradly Pierce.

The agency was also asking anyone able to look for housing outside the region to do so.

“We realize there are availability issues in Butte County, so survivors having difficulty locating rooms there have the option of staying in Sacramento and surrounding cities as well,” said Pierce.

But many of the survivors not only lost their homes but also their vehicles so getting to a town far away with whatever belongings they still have is a daunting task.

Zimmer said he was worried about those who can’t find stable housing, “How many of these people living on the cusp already will become a new wave of homeless?”, Maureen Foody

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