Red Cross officials have told this newspaper’s reporters multiple times that the organization’s efforts to operate shelter services for Camp Fire evacuees would continue until there is no longer a need.
Well, apologies for the coarse language, but it appears as though that was bullshit. We’re told now, a little more than two months after California’s deadliest and most destructive fire, that the Red Cross is planning to close up shop at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds at the end of this month.
No, seriously. The national organization that, according to its vision statement, “is always there in times of need,” is preparing to discontinue this critical relief effort (see Meredith J. Cooper’s report on page 8). That’s quite the divergence from its mission of “alleviat[ing] human suffering in the face of emergencies.”
It’s not overly dramatic to say that this scenario has the makings of yet another local catastrophe.
Here’s the thing: More than 600 people are living at the fairgrounds, either inside buildings or in RVs and cars out in the parking lot. Considering the accommodations aren’t exactly the most comfortable, nor do they offer much in the way of privacy, we’re fairly certain people are there because they have nowhere else to go.
The folks at the Red Cross serve these people daily, so they know this to be the case. They’ve also attended meetings at which local service providers have made it clear that their organizations aren’t equipped to house those who will be turned out at the end of this month. Indeed, those groups are scrambling to figure out what to do about our region’s existing population of unsheltered citizens.
Point is, there is no safety net for the hundreds of additional people who may end up on the streets in the middle of winter. And two weeks’ notice isn’t much time to establish one.
My only conclusion: Criticism of the Red Cross over the years is warranted. But don’t take my word for it. One only has to type “Red Cross failure” into an internet search to find reports by ProPublica, The New York Times, NPR and other outlets on the nonprofit’s botched responses to numerous natural disasters.
Take, for example, stories about how a school superintendent in Texas was forced to open a shelter following Hurricane Harvey when the Red Cross was practically a no-show until four days after the storm two years ago. Or check out the congressional report alleging that one-quarter of the donations taken in following the devastating earthquake in Haiti nine years ago was spent on overhead costs.
Sadly, though the Red Cross and its volunteers have done good work over the past couple of months in Butte County, this decision means that the Camp Fire response will end up as yet another black eye for the organization. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. The Red Cross could follow through on its word by continuing to shelter and feed folks in need until an alternative option is viable.
In the meantime, I’d urge readers to make some noise on Twitter. #RedCrossFailure has a nice ring to it. Moreover, if you’re thinking about opening your wallet to nonprofits providing aid, send donations to local groups that are in it for the long haul.