This is the first installment of a new feature for The Weekly Calistogan from UpValley Family Centers that will appear in print and online. The first week of each month the Centers will call attention to their vital, on-going work in our communities.
It’s been more than a year since the October 2017 wildfires, and Mr. Vargas still isn’t back where he used to be. After his Calistoga apartment burned, he relocated to Healdsburg, where he was able to find an affordable place to live. Now he commutes back into Napa County every day, hoping to pick up as many hours as he can driving tour buses up and down the valley. It’s been a struggle though: There don’t seem to be as many available hours as there used to be – and as much as he’d like to, Mr. Vargas just can’t work as many shifts as he once could. He’s got a long (and costly) commute now; and after the fires burned most of his possessions, he simply doesn’t have enough work clothing to cover more than a few shifts a week.
Here in Calistoga, we all know that recovery from a wildfire continues long after the smoke has cleared. This is especially true for families who were already vulnerable before the blazes began. Many of those who lost their homes still live in temporary housing, and – like Mr. Vargas – are struggling to find a new place they can afford. Some of these households couldn’t afford a comprehensive insurance policy, and now face the impossible cost of rebuilding and replacing lost belongings on their own. Families spent their savings or went into debt to make ends meet during the fires, and are now heading into another slow season without financial reserves to fall back on. And while Napa’s economy is rebounding, low-income communities are experiencing new barriers to employment – such as a longer commute from a new or temporary home, or the loss of important resources like work uniforms or equipment.
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That’s why the work of “second responders” continues. Since October 2017, nonprofit agencies across the region have played a crucial role in making sure that all impacted families have access to the information and assistance they need to rebuild their lives. At the UpValley Family Centers, our team of Fire Recovery Case Managers is helping upvalley families apply for available recovery assistance, navigate insurance claims, access health and mental health resources, and more. They do this as part of a County-wide network of disaster case management services, which is coordinated by the Long Term Recovery Committee of the Napa Valley COAD (Community Organization Active in Disaster). This network also partners with a larger regional effort, overseen by Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, to ensure that long-term fire recovery needs are effectively addressed across multiple North Bay Counties.
In addition to helping households connect with recovery resources, UpValley Family Centers has also provided direct financial assistance to help families cover some of the costs that come with rebuilding – like a security deposit for a new home, repairs for a fire-damaged residence, utility bills, or the replacement of lost personal belongings.
One of our most important and valued partners in this work is the Calistoga Firefighters’ Association. Even as firefighters were still out risking their lives to bring the fires under control last year, the CFFA made a generous contribution to the UpValley Family Centers’ Recovery Response Operations. With their gift, we’ve been able to provide vital aid to over 140 Calistoga families since October 2017. The CFFA’s funds have covered rental payments and home repairs, so that these families could avoid homelessness; paid for gas and childcare, so that parents could return to work or seek new employment; and paid for utility bills and groceries, so that households could keep themselves warm and fed during a time of hardship. From first responders to second responders, the CFFA and its members are true champions of Calistoga, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with them in service of this community.
As larger, more destructive wildfires become our “new normal” in California, our communities have no choice but to grapple with their long-term impact – and to develop new ways to ensure that every household has the resources they need to weather the next disaster. UpValley Family Centers and On The Move, a Napa-based nonprofit agency, recently released a report that outlines lessons learned and recommendations for better serving vulnerable, isolated communities both during and after a natural disaster. In addition, UVFC is working with partners across the region to develop new initiatives that will help low-income families become more economically resilient. From financial coaching to workforce development programs, our goal is to help underserved local households feel stronger in a lasting way.
If you or your family were impacted by the fires and need support in managing your recovery process, please do not hesitate to reach out to the UpValley Family Centers. Please call (707) 965-5010 or stop by our office on 1500 Cedar Street in Calistoga.