Double down

Cue the damage control. After our story last week about the Red Cross’ pending closure of the emergency shelter at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and my not-so-subtle criticism of that plan (see “#RedCrossFailure,” Jan. 17), several representatives have contacted me via email to say how great the organization is.

One public relations official noted statistics underscoring the organization’s response to the Camp Fire, including how many meals and snacks it has served (223,700) and the number of “contacts” its volunteer mental health, health services and spiritual care professionals have provided (46,000) following the disaster.

The message carried this line justifying the closure: “Emergency shelters typically aren’t intended to stay open for long periods of time—that’s why organizations involved in relief efforts strive to help people find more suitable accommodations if their homes are left unlivable after a disaster.”

Then there was the reassurance: “Prior to shelter closings, Red Cross caseworkers connect one-on-one with people to create recovery plans unique to their needs, help them navigate paperwork and connect with aid from other community agencies.”

The message is two-fold. First, the organization believes its job sheltering folks is done. Second, it’s up to local groups to take over.

Therein lies the rub. We know our community. Because of the depth of our reporting, we know there isn’t an adequate fallback plan for the 600 or so individuals at the fairgrounds. We get that the Red Cross can’t run the shelter forever, and we appreciate what it has done thus far, but it’s much too soon to pull out.

Two weeks is not sufficient notice for either the folks still living there, or the local service providers who will see the fallout.

Indeed, the latter told us last week they had no clue what would happen at the end of the day on Jan. 31. And the Red Cross has just started those aforementioned “one-on-one” conversations (see “Shelter no more,” Newslines, Jan. 17).

Our hope was that its officials would reconsider.

At points over the past couple of days, rumors circulated they may be doing so. I received emails from two Chico politicos, including City Councilman Karl Ory, indicating the contract at the fairgrounds had been extended into March.

As of this newspaper’s deadline, however, that’s not what we’re hearing from Red Cross officials and the county’s spokeswoman.

Last week, the executive director of the organization’s local chapter left a voicemail for me. The message said that she found my column “disturbing.” I agree wholeheartedly, although I’m certain we have different takes on what constitutes that descriptor.

I’m sure she was referring to my call for readers to put pressure on the organization and to also direct Camp Fire donations to other groups working on relief efforts. What I find disturbing: the potential for hundreds of vulnerable folks to be put onto our streets or into unstable situations in remote locales.

What’s also disturbing is that this newspaper is pretty much the only one making any noise about this looming humanitarian crisis. Where’s the outrage?

Every single public official connected to Butte County—city leaders, supervisors, state and federal representatives, etc.—ought to be treating this scenario as an emergency. That’s exactly what it is.

About Melissa Daugherty 75 Articles
Melissa Daugherty is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer who started her career as a higher education reporter at a daily newspaper. Daugherty spent 17 years at the CN&R, eight of them as editor-in-chief. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is her super power.