FEMA Told Them to Get Out. It Was Pretty Much Impossible

The 'Washington Post' looks at Camp Fire survivors' inability to find housing
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2021 8:00 AM CDT
FEMA Told Them to Get Out. It Was Pretty Much Impossible
Stock image of trailer homes.   (Getty Images)

The hits just kept coming for Mike Erickson. The California man lost his home in 2016 in the face of medical debt incurred by wife Crystal's stroke, which partly paralyzed her. In November 2018 came the Camp Fire, which decimated the town of Paradise and left Mike and Crystal among the 50,000 people without a home. As Hannah Dreier writes for the Washington Post, they shifted between the hospital, hotels, and campsites before securing more stable lodging in a trailer park run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) last September. But after just shy of a year of being there, he was told the site was closing in 12 days. That was a problem for Mike, who had tried mightily to find housing, which FEMA required. To stay at the park, he had to prove that every 15 days he had applied for at least one permanent housing option.

What he found was grim: Rental vacancies in the area stood at less than 1%. He sent personal letters to wheelchair-accessible apartment complexes and got no reply. He tried to sign up for affordable housing, only to learn the waiting list was three years long and no one new was being added to it. FEMA wouldn't sell them their trailer (which they were told sometimes happens for just hundreds of dollars) because amidst the stress of caring for Crystal he had missed some rental-search-proof submissions. A Camp Fire advocate finally paid for a week at a hotel, and Dreier's story ends with Mike unsure of where they would go next. For Dreier, it raises a question: "With disasters and the needs that follow them increasing, the government finds itself trying to decide what it owes the displaced. How long is truly long enough to shelter the most vulnerable?" (Read the full story.)

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