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Six Months After Almeda Fire, Hundreds Of Families Still Without Housing

The remains of a home can be a toxic stew of substances.
Geoffrey Riley
JPR News
The remains of a home can be a toxic stew of substances.

Several wildfire survivors waited hours into a Talent City Council meeting Wednesday night for a chance to tell their stories, including Martin Rocha. He told councilors that he applied for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency but was denied.

Rocha spoke through a translator as his family stood behind him.

“He doesn't have a place to go; he doesn't have a place to live,” said the city’s translator and interim city recorder Hector Flores. “He’s imploring FEMA do their job and help him because he has no place to go. They haven't received any help. They have a small child and they don’t know where to go.”

Rocha was one of five families who appeared at the virtual meeting from the Northwest Seasonal Workers Association office, a Medford-based organization that provides resources to seasonal workers.

“We are tired of being denied the help we need,” said NSWA operations manager Caitlyn McGuan. “We’re tired of being told that we have to keep reapplying. Most of us have to work. Our kids are not in school, and we do not have adequate child care, so we cannot be constantly appealing to FEMA every single day just to get them to do what they are supposed to do.”

About 85 percent of Oregonians who applied for disaster assistance after last year’s wildfires were found to be ineligible, according to data from FEMA. The agency encourages people to appeal those decisions, but most people don’t, and those that do are usually denied again.

State and federal officials also attended the meeting to review the services they’ve provided to wildfire survivors so far. FEMA has installed 107 trailers at various RV parks in Southern Oregon, and the agency is looking to install another 100 more. The state is paying for hotel rooms for 776 wildfire survivors in 21 hotels in the Rogue Valley. But that funding is set to run out soon.

“We’re scrambling a bit to get a plan in place to provide transitional housing as well as more permanent spaces,” says Central Point Community Development Director Tom Humphrey.

State officials estimate there are more than 300 families in the Rogue Valley who still need housing, although that’s likely an undercount.

One hurdle FEMA is facing is finding a place to install trailers for eligible applicants, Humphrey explained. He's been acting as a regional liaison for state and federal officials.

“You see a lot of trailers at the Expo [Center in Medford],” Humphrey said. “We don’t have places to put them. If the people who are ineligible become eligible, we still don't have places to put them.”

FEMA officials have considered a few locations for temporary trailer sites — including softball fields on Colver Road in Talentas well as the baseball fields at Chuck Roberts Park in Talent — but they have so far drawn backlash from nearby neighbors.

Copyright 2021 Jefferson Public Radio

April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.