Camp Fire Victims Race To Find Housing Before The Last Shelter Closes Many of the folks who are left at the shelter at the Chico fairgrounds were already living on the economic margins when the Camp Fire destroyed whole towns and rural mountain neighborhoods.
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Camp Fire Victims Race To Find Housing Before The Last Shelter Closes

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Camp Fire Victims Race To Find Housing Before The Last Shelter Closes

Camp Fire Victims Race To Find Housing Before The Last Shelter Closes

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a deadline looming today for survivors of last fall's deadly Camp Fire, the fire that destroyed nearly all of the town of Paradise, Calif. The last Red Cross shelter is scheduled to close in nearby Chico. Disaster relief officials are racing to find temporary shelter or housing for dozens of people who are now facing homelessness. Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: A lot of the folks who are left at the shelter here at the Chico fairgrounds were already living on the economic margins before the Camp Fire destroyed whole towns and rural mountain neighborhoods.

NICHOLAS SOTO: We fled the fire only to jump into hell.

SIEGLER: Nicholas Soto jumped into a new hell, moving from shelter to shelter. Since early December, he and his wife have parked their RV along this fence crammed with other campers abutting a Chevron station.

SOTO: You get tired of getting pushed from one place to another, told, you can't be here, you can't be there. It's just a little tiring.

SIEGLER: A little tiring, pushed from one place to the next. Soto's voice cuts in and out. He's got chronic lung disease. He's almost 70, with long salt-and-pepper hair pulled back in a ponytail. He's also diabetic and often has to use a wheelchair.

SOTO: Come here, Milo (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

SIEGLER: Soto's rescue dogs - they're crammed inside the camper.

SOTO: When you're living with four dogs, two cats, it's crowded. It's - mentally, it's hard on the mind, you know?

SIEGLER: Hard on the mind, hard to sleep. And the conditions outside are getting more desperate, especially when it storms. At least today's shelter closure deadline isn't firm. If it were, local officials worry this would exacerbate an already bad homelessness crisis in Chico.

CINDY HUGE: They will all have a plan before they leave the shelter.

SIEGLER: Cindy Huge is the Red Cross spokesperson.

HUGE: Whether that be a permanent house, temporary housing, they will all have a recovery plan. We just don't put them out and say, we're closing the shelter. Red Cross doesn't do that.

SIEGLER: This week, Butte County did get a million-dollar grant that will go to help those who remain here find new housing, likely out of state. There was already a housing shortage in this rural area before 14,000 homes burned overnight.

Nicholas Soto hopes to leave the shelter and drive up to Oregon in the next few days. He's just waiting for his FEMA money to come through. He's one of some 26,700 federal aid applicants here. Today is also the deadline to register with FEMA.

SOTO: There's worse things that could've happened to us. And we got our lives, and we got our fur babies. And that's what's...

SIEGLER: We got our lives and our fur babies. His voice trails off. He's overwhelmed with emotion. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Chico, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE")

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