When the Camp Fire ravaged the town of Paradise last month, killing 88 people and destroying nearly 14,000 residences, people from across the country stepped up to help.
The outpouring of gift cards, clothing, personal items, and other goods from across the country have been overwhelmingly generous, but what many people burned out of their homes needed the most was a roof over their heads and a sense of security.
Prior to the fire, Butte County’s housing availability was only 3 percent, which left most of California Vocations Inc.’s 40 adults with special needs and their caregivers, who were displaced by the fire, homeless and unable to find lodging.
After the fire, the majority were living at Woodson Bridge in Tehama County until Colusa County took them in, said Renee Rhodes, a residential administrator with California Vocations Inc., a non-profit organization that provides day, residential, and support services to developmentally disabled adults.
The Colusa County Board of Supervisors have allowed all of California Vocation’s clients, their caregivers, and other staff to live in Colusa County’s Migrant Village, in Williams, until March 31, when the migrants return, or until they cam be resettled.
“We are definitely feeling the love,” Rhodes said. “We are so grateful. It’s amazing.”
Colusa County Chief Executive Officer Wendy Tyler said the migrant housing facility was a good fit for this particular group of fire victims, especially since it would allow the disabled adults to stay together with California Vocations’ staff, and would also limit the county’s liability by dealing with just one organization. Tyler expedited the contract to allow the people to move in prior to last week’s board meeting, something Board Chairman Gary Evans said he would shoulder.
“When Wendy called and asked if this was something I thought we should do, I said yes,” Evans.
Rhodes said like many people in Paradise, the clients and staff barely got out of inferno, but all survived. The non-profit, as well as most of their employees, lost all the residences where they provided their clients assisted living, as well as their day and vocational centers, including the thrift store where some of the special needs adults worked.
Rhodes said about 45 minutes after she arrived at work on Nov. 8, the tell-tell signs of an apocalyptic sky erupted all around her into flames, which threw her into pure survival mode, as the fire burned through 90 percent of the structures in Paradise in just six hours.
“I loaded up five individuals who were under my care and I got out of there,” Rhodes said. “I was driving in the center divider and on the back roads and off the road. I did what I had to do to get out. I lost my animals, my house, everything, but I got my guys out. This is my family.”
Rhodes, who has been with the company for 10 years, is now living with her clients at the Migrant Housing facility. Her wife, Amy, also a company employee, is caring for clients in a separate unit. All together, the Colusa County Board of Supervisors made 15 units available to California Vocations.
In addition to Colusa County, groups, individuals, and churches have been doing all they could to help.
Last week, Barbara Azevedo, of the Elenore Azevedo Memorial YES Program, collected furniture for the housing units, which are unfurnished, and local churches have arranged an “angle tree” to take 80 or more individuals in for Christmas dinner.
“My mother raised us to believe that ‘if you can’t step out of your life to help other people, why are you here,’” Azevedo said. “That is basically how I live my life.”
Although the housing is not permanent, and many may end up in FEMA trailers, the individuals are being well taken care of.
Azevedo said in addition to the furniture she collected, she has also collected gift cards from people in the Sacramento area to give them for Christmas in honor of her late sister, Lizzie, who had special needs.
“This is something I really wanted to do, not just for my mother, but in Lizzy’s honor,” Azevedo said.
Items still in demand are diminishing, although some household furniture is still an issue for some, Rhodes said. People who want to give money can donate directly on California Vocation’s website at calvoc.org, or contact Rhodes at firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of needs.
Supervisor Kent Boes said he has been to the Migrant Village to check on the county’s newest residents, and that they are all very appreciative of what Colusa County has done for them.
“In this particular situation, these folks were living in tents on the river,” Boes said. “To be able to put these folks together in one place is one less thing for them to have to deal with. They are use to being together all the time and having that community. If they would have been separated out to different houses, it would have been one more shake up for them to deal with. It would not have gone as well. It was a perfect fit.” ■