Homeless Fire Evacuees Face Further Displacement The Glass Fire in Northern California has forced thousands of people from their homes. Among them, residents of Santa Rosa's first government-funded homeless camp, who are now displaced again.
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Homeless Fire Evacuees In California Face Further Displacement

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Homeless Fire Evacuees In California Face Further Displacement

Homeless Fire Evacuees In California Face Further Displacement

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NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. Firefighters in northern California say they should be able to extinguish a wildfire in wine country in about a week - so some good news. That fire forced thousands of people out of their homes, including people who were living in Santa Rosa's first government-funded camp for homeless people. It gave people who'd spent many years on the streets real homes. Here's Vanessa Rancaño of member station KQED.

VANESSA RANCAÑO, BYLINE: A homeless resident recorded the evacuation on his phone in late September.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED LOS GUILICOS VILLAGE RESIDENT: ...Fire from Napa coming over the...

RANCAÑO: One of the evacuees was Carmen Almejo.

CARMEN ALMEJO: We were sitting having coffee, and we could feel the fire. And we could smell it so well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED LOS GUILICOS VILLAGE RESIDENT: There's a fire coming up over the hill. It's glowing really bright red.

ALMEJO: So I know we had to evacuate. It's very scary. I never been in a fire like that.

RANCAÑO: Before the homeless camp, she lived in the woods for two years. Almejo is one of the 60 residents of Los Guilicos Village, a transitional shelter funded by the county. Chris Grabill manages the village of tiny homes. He's in charge of housing services for St. Vincent de Paul of Sonoma County, and he led the evacuation.

CHRIS GRABILL: Unsheltered folks are used to being evacuated in one form or another, but there's also a lot of trauma from that.

RANCAÑO: He says that made for some tense moments.

GRABILL: What I had to say to one woman who was really panicking and really struggles with mental illness was, if you don't go, I have to stay, and my little daughter will not have a father anymore. She immediately was like, OK - OK, just give me 20 minutes. I was like, we don't have 20 minutes (laughter).

RANCAÑO: Grabill got everybody out of Los Guilicos Village, or LGV, that night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED LOS GUILICOS VILLAGE RESIDENT: We've been evacuated from the LGV, and we're now headed to fairgrounds.

RANCAÑO: Most Los Guilicos evacuees are still at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in tents and trailers. Carmen Almejo and her little dog, Carmencita, are adjusting to life in a trailer shared with two men.

ALMEJO: Come on. OK. I'll open it for you. Go on. Microwave and stove and the refrigerator and here are the two bunk beds.

RANCAÑO: All these appliances, the running water, air conditioning - they still feel like luxuries to 63-year-old Almejo.

ALMEJO: I used to live underneath the bridge at - on 6th Street.

RANCAÑO: She was on the streets for almost a decade. She'd only been living in her tiny home at Los Guilicos Village for two weeks when the fire came through. It destroyed four of the tiny houses and damaged another two. It could be months before residents are allowed to return.

ALMEJO: Without having a place, you know, to rest your head or go to the bathroom or basic things, what do you have, you know? And I don't want to be there again. I'm sure it's going to be OK.

RANCAÑO: For many of these people, another displacement would just compound the trauma, says shelter manager Chris Grabill.

GRABILL: I can tell you right now that I will fight like hell for these folks to be here as long as they need to be to be in a safe, comfortable living situation after what they've been through.

RANCAÑO: Of 120 people who've lived at Los Guilicos Village since it opened early this year, about 30 of them were able to move into permanent supportive housing. Almost as many were in the process of securing it. Almejo was just starting to work with a case manager. That's stalled for now. But she says she's grateful for the resources here at the fairgrounds, like the free vet services for her dog.

UNIDENTIFIED VETERINARIAN: I'm going to take her in and give her her pedicure. I'll bring her right back...

ALMEJO: OK. Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED VETERINARIAN: ...And bring her right back to you.

RANCAÑO: Because of the smoke and heat, Grabill wants to bring in more trailers and get people out of tents.

GRABILL: I hope that we have the resources to follow through with that promise.

RANCAÑO: And he hopes everyone in the trailers will be able to stay here until a better option is available.

For NPR News, I'm Vanessa Rancaño in Santa Rosa, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF MESSAGE TO BEARS' "RUNNING THROUGH WOODLAND")

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