Some victims were hurting before fire
Homelessness not new for some of the displaced
CHICO, Calif. — Bob Talk hadn’t even transferred the title for his new trailer — the one that was supposed to get him off the streets — when Northern California’s deadly wildfire whipped through and turned it to ash. He had lived in the trailer park in Paradise for all of three days.
Talk is now among hundreds of people still in a shelter a month later.
The future is uncertain for all of the fire’s victims, but it’s uniquely challenging for the many, like Talk, who were already homeless or nearly so.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Talk said. “But I’m not going to leave this town.”
Talk, 61, said he had set aside $500 a month from a public assistance check to buy the trailer for $3,500. The plan was to move in with his 39-year-old daughter and host a Christmas party. The extended family would be excited to be off the street, he said. But his daughter was struck and killed by a car while riding her bike Oct. 3.
When the flames swept through Butte County on Nov. 8, killing at least 85 people in the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century, Talk hitched a ride to safety with a sheriff ’s deputy. He ended up at staying in a Walmart parking lot in nearby Chico that became an unofficial shelter, where people with nowhere else to go pitched tents or slept in their cars. Last week, the final holdouts, including Talk, were sent to the Red Cross shelter at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico.
Talk wasn’t sure how long he would stay — “Maybe I’ll meet my future ex-wife in here,” he joked — or what he would do next. But he knows he will be in Chico, where he was born and raised before he started working at carnivals for 40 years.
Eighteen percent of the 230,000 people in Butte County live in poverty. The median household income is about $47,000 — $20,000 less than statewide.
A snapshot survey found nearly 2,000 homeless people in Butte County on one January night in 2017, the most recent count. That was before the blaze destroyed 14,000 homes.
Michael Jones, 36, is staying at the fairgrounds, where he recently had his first shower in two weeks.
Jones had moved to Paradise about seven months ago to help take care of his mother. The tow-behind trailer where he had been living was destroyed in the fire.
“Minimalistic living is becoming more popular. This way, I get a head start into that,” Jones said. “I feel oddly liberated by this thing.”
Michael Jones organizes blankets, sleeping bags and clothes Tuesday in a parking lot that has become home to some people displaced by wildfire in Chico, Calif.