A few weeks after the Camp Fire erupted, I began making predictions about the future. One was that it wouldn’t be long before the throng of reporters from large, out-of-town media outlets would begin an exodus that would eventually leave just the local journalists to cover the ongoing recovery. Another was about a potential new wave of homelessness.
“I worry most about those on the margins: folks on fixed, lower-tier incomes who were able to get by living on the Ridge,” I wrote back on Nov. 29.
And now, dear readers, those fears have been realized.
Disasters in rural regions grip big-city readers for only so long, and the reporters from the metros have mostly gone back to covering stories closer to home. That’s disappointing for a number of reasons, including the loss of additional watchdogging.
That’s true especially when it comes to homelessness, which I expect to spike dramatically in the coming months now that the Red Cross is winding down its operations.
As we’ve reported over the past couple of weeks, the organization set a Jan. 31 closure date for its shelter operations at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds. That was the plan despite the state-owned facility granting an extension into March. We’d heard about that extension through the grapevine prior to the publication of our last issue, but neither the county nor Red Cross confirmed that information until well after deadline.
The reason the Red Cross kept it hush-hush: to motivate people to leave. When the county gave us the confirmation, hours after we went to press, its spokeswoman charged it was simply a contingency plan. That is, the shelter would stay open only if needed.
Since then, the Red Cross has ramped down the number of fire refugees taking up residence there. Doling out 48-hour eviction notices, along with $125 gift cards, is one of the ways it has accomplished this goal. Some folks told the CN&R’s Ashiah Scharaga that the single gift card is the only help they’d received in terms of transitioning out of the facility. With nowhere to go, they planned to bed down in Chico’s parks (see page 8 for an update).
The result: People who experienced a traumatic evacuation on Nov. 8 experience yet another one at the hands of the national relief organization.
The Red Cross defends its move to extricate evacuees by saying that the facility isn’t meant for long-term sheltering (see the guest comment for a sunny take on its work). But, considering the alternative for some people is literally living on the streets, that rationalization is faulty.
Moreover, the timing stinks. First off, a couple of weeks’ notice doesn’t suffice. In addition, many of the expulsions took place just prior to the county supervisors accepting an infusion of money from Wells Fargo, funds earmarked specifically to subsidize housing for people at the shelter. Some of the folks we’ve interviewed wondered where that aid is going.
All of this certainly underscores my resolve to look further into how the Red Cross has handled the discharge of hundreds of vulnerable people. Watch this space for more updates on this dynamic situation. I’m committed.