Hundreds of Kincade fire victims seek support in Healdsburg

Ricardo Ibarra
Written by Ricardo Ibarra

They had been standing there, waiting since 6 am. It was around 4 pm on Tuesday and they had not advanced even a yard in the line forming outside of Healdsburg Community Center, where at the time the line included around 250 people, all seeking some type of relief from the Kincade fire, where a series of PG&E power shut-offs and mandatory evacuations ordered by Sonoma County, left hundreds of farmworkers without work and resources. 

And now, hundreds of those people have been crowding Healdsburg’s community offices since Monday, due to word-of-mouth talk that they could find help there, including receiving money to pay rent…the truth is that no organization is giving cash. The only help that people can receive are gift cards for food or products from stores like FoodMax, Safeway, Oliver’s, Target and Trader Joe’s.

Victoria Ramirez, 36, a resident of Windsor, returned to trimming grape vines. With her husband and three children, this last week of forced rest caused her to lose a thousand dollars in salary, delaying the rent payment for the home they live in. 

“We had to use the savings we had because the first two days we slept in our car in a parking lot. Our landlord is going to wait until the 30th, but that is going to delay us and all our bills are going to accumulate,” said Ramírez. 

Kathy Kane, Director of Health & Wellness and Financial Stability at Community Action Partnership (CAP), said that the organization received $100,000 from Community Foundation of Sonoma County, funds they have invested in gift cards valued at $50 and $200, as part of an “immediate assistance” strategy, she said. 

But there is no money to help with rent. “The money for housing assistance is not here. We continue to wait for a great response from the community to provide that type of support,” said Kane. 

They must go to the CAP offices to apply for funds available through their housing assistance program, added Kane, “we are not doing any of that here.”

Healdsburg Community Center has become the last refuge in an area that was closest to the disaster zone. There are people from Windsor, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Cloverdale and Santa Rosa, the majority of whom are working-class and immigrant. 

“95% of the people who arrived on Monday and Tuesday are Spanish-speaking,” said Ariel Kelly, Executive Director of Corazón Healdsburg. The majority were agricultural workers. 

The space designated for residents who have lost their home was full of officials without anyone to help. Outside in the halls, two PG&E representatives sat behind a table without being able to help anyone, as they didn’t speak Spanish and the informational pamphlets they provided were only written in English. “Can you help me translate a question?”, a woman who wanted some answers from the public utilities company asked me. 

Yadira Arroyo, 38, of Windsor, has been out of work since Thursday morning, when the Kincade fire erupted with force in The Geysers zone, and which is now the largest fire in the history of Sonoma County. 

“I have no job until further notice. The vineyards where I worked burned down in Geyserville. They told us that that there is too much ash and pollution for us to go to work out there. Right now, there is nothing to do,” said Arroyo. 

Arroyo was among a group of female farm workers gathered outside of the community center, who had been waiting since 6 am. “They have given us food and water, but came outside to tell us that there are no more gift cards available, but that we could wait to receive a pass for tomorrow (this Wednesday) to see if there are more gift cards.” 

In total, between Monday and Tuesday, around a thousand people came to the community center seeking relief, said one of the shelter assistants, Jorge Rodriguez. 

He added that the community center will be open until Thursday, 10 am-7 pm, although there are discussions about whether they will be open on Friday and throughout the weekend.  

Contact La Prensa Sonoma editor, Ricardo Ibarra, by telephone: 707-526-8501. Or by email: ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. On Facebook, Ricardo Ibarra.

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