Some vic­tims were hurt­ing be­fore fire

Home­less­ness not new for some of the dis­placed

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - FROM THE COVER - By Jonathan J. Cooper The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.”

Jonathan J. Cooper The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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