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California Housing Crisis Leaves Fire Evacuees Homeless

Denise Chester, an evacuee of the Camp Fire, hugs her son Antonio Batres as she volunteers sorting clothes at a makeshift camp in Chico, Calif. (Noah Berger / AP)

A Butte County official has said that thousands of people whose homes were destroyed in the devastating Camp Fire are unlikely to find new housing in California. The fire killed at least 71 people and has left more than 1,000 people unaccounted for. Of the approximately 50,000 people who were evacuated near Paradise, Calif., only 1,000 are staying in state evacuation shelters.

A housing crisis has left very few homes available to rent in the county, let alone the state, and the fire only made the situation worse. Many evacuees are making do for now in makeshift shelters and tents.

“Big picture, we have 6,000, possibly 7,000 households who have been displaced and who realistically don’t stand a chance of finding housing again in Butte County,” said Ed Mayer, the executive director of the Butte County Housing Authority. “I don’t even know if these households can be absorbed in California,” he added. Some people are staying with friends and family or in hotels.

Before the fire, fewer than 2 percent of the houses in Butte County were vacant. Officials estimate that 9,700 single residences and 144 multiple residences were destroyed and there are fewer than 1,000 housing units available in the county.

Hundreds of people were asked to leave their makeshift camp at a Walmart parking lot in Chico, Calif., by Sunday. Most are unsure of where they will go next; some are hesitant to even try to stay in a shelter because four of the facilities have reported recent outbreaks of norovirus, a very infectious stomach bug.

“I’d rather breathe the smoke,” said evacuee Carol Whiteburn.

After a crisis, some property owners—and hotels—exploit people’s housing needs by gouging. Last year’s fires in Santa Rosa, Calif., sent rents as high as $13,000 a month; as many as 7,000 people were unable to return to the city.

“We’re on the edge of a humanitarian crisis,” Mayer said. “We don’t have people sick and dying right now. But we have folks living in a very vulnerable position and could become sick and die.”


Naomi LaChance
Blogger / Editorial Assistant
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

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