From The Weekly Calistogan: UpValley Family Centers provide relief for households impacted by 2020 wildfires

December 1, 2020 by

Alice and Tony had considered themselves lucky: though the pandemic had left them feeling isolated and uncertain, both had been able to keep their jobs, and so they’d managed to maintain a certain sense of stability throughout the spring and summer.

But in September, the Glass Fire swept through their community. It destroyed their home, and damaged Tony’s place of work enough that his boss had to lay him off.

Their sense of stability vanished in an instant: their modest income had never quite been enough to build up any emergency savings, and they didn’t have renters’ insurance (a monthly expense they’d wanted to avoid). In other words, they had no way to recover their losses, let alone to come up with a security deposit for a new place.

What’s more, they now faced an impossible rental market. They wanted to stay in Calistoga, close to their friends and Alice’s job, but nothing was available within their price range. And the competition was stiff: along with them, hundreds of other displaced upvalley households were looking for a new home.

The Glass and Hennessey Fires destroyed over 500 homes in Napa County alone this August and September, along with a comparable number of businesses. Hundreds of additional structures were substantially damaged. The combined economic impact of these two fires has been devastating and is likely to be felt for years, amplifying the blows already dealt to the hospitality industry this year by the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of people in Napa County have been affected by loss – of homes, jobs, or property. None of it will come back quickly.

A wildfire doesn’t discriminate in the havoc it wreaks, dealing out destruction in equal measure to the rich and poor. But recovery can be decidedly more difficult for those in the latter category. Low-wage, hourly workers are more likely to lose their jobs when a business suffers damage; and less likely to have the savings, insurance, or safety net they need to weather a crisis. When you struggle to afford groceries every month, you might skip on renters’ insurance. And if you’re undocumented, you have no recourse to unemployment, FEMA relief funds, or other government assistance programs.

To support households who are experiencing these kinds of barriers as they work to recover from the fires’ devastation, the Napa Valley Community Foundation has launched its 2020 Wildfire Relief Program. In partnership with UpValley Family Centers and On The Move, the Community Foundation is providing two types of financial aid to individuals and families who were impacted by the fires and who meet certain income requirements. Lost or Damaged Property Assistance is available for those whose primary residence was destroyed or damaged: eligible renters can receive a one-time payment of up to $3,500; homeowners can receive up to $7,500. Households experiencing financial hardship as a result of the fires – due to lost wages or unemployment – can apply for a $1,500 one-time payment. This type of assistance is for those people who are not eligible for unemployment or EDD benefits; undocumented residents are encouraged to apply.

Funds for this program have been provided by the Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, which has received generous contributions from donors throughout and beyond Napa County. Aid will be distributed to eligible households through the UpValley Family Centers and On The Move, two local organizations with extensive experience providing wildfire and other disaster relief to underserved populations, and a strong relationship of trust with their respective communities. This puts these two agencies in a uniquely strong position to make sure that aid is channeled into the hands of the people who need it most. UVFC and OTM have acted as designated “second responders” in response to multiple wildfires in recent years, distributing emergency aid and other support to households impacted by the 2015 Valley Fire, the 2017 North Bay fires, and the 2019 Kincade fire.

Since March of this year, they have stood at the forefront of the County’s COVID-19 response by providing emergency financial assistance to households experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic, likewise through a partnership with the Community Foundation and its Disaster Relief Fund.

Applications and more information can be found on the UpValley Family Centers’ website, and completed forms can be sent to efa@upvalleyfamilycenters.org. A case manager will reach out to each applicant in the order that their materials were received to schedule an intake appointment. Case Managers are also available to help complete applications. Households who believe they may be eligible for this aid are invited to call (707) 965-5010 or email efa@upvalleyfamilycenters.org for assistance. The deadline to apply is January 29, 2021.

In addition to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, the UpValley Family Centers’ fire relief services, including financial assistance, are made possible by generous support from Kaiser Permanente, Wells Fargo, United Way of the Bay Area, the Latino Community Foundation, as well as many individual, corporate, and service club contributions. If you are interested in contributing to the 2020 Wildfire Relief Program, you can make a donation to the Napa Valley Community Foundation (choose the Disaster Relief Fund designation), or to the UpValley Family Centers (choose the Fire Relief designation).

As renters who had lost their home, Alice and Tony received a $3,500 check through the Wildfire Relief Program. It allowed them to put down a security deposit on a new apartment. They weren’t able to find a place in Calistoga, but they’re deeply grateful to have a safe, comfortable roof over their heads once again. It gives them the peace of mind they’ll need as they start rebuilding their household – and as Tony looks for a new job.

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