PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – More than 500 survivors of the 2020 wildfires are living in shelter provided by Oregon Department of Human Services, nearly a year and a half after losing their homes.
When the wind storm-fueled fires engulfed parts of the state on Labor Day 2020, about a half-million people were under some kind of evacuation alert level. And of those that were forced to flee for their lives, thousands found out they didn’t have a home to return to. The greatest home loss was in Jackson County, where more than 2,000 were destroyed.
However, families in Lane, Lincoln and Marion counties also lost their houses. Ed Flick, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services Office of Resilience and Emergency Management, said many of the homes destroyed by fires were low-income housing or manufactured homes. He said those types of homes aren’t being rebuilt at the same rate as traditional single-family homes.
“About 85% of people we’re sheltering lost their home that they either owned or rented and they are really waiting for affordable housing to become available,” he said.
The good news for these people is that the state plans to continue providing them shelter until they can transition into more permanent forms of housing. Oregon Department of Human Services received $75 million from lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session to provide food and shelter to wildfire survivors.
In addition to food and shelter, the state is also providing disaster case management to 1,400 people to help them navigate and connect with resources They’ve also contracted with volunteer and community-based organizations to help people find items to furnish their new homes and find the mental health resources they need during this difficult time in their lives.
“I’ve seen, really a community of survivors emerge, but that in no way diminishes the trauma that these folks experienced,” Flick said. “These were life-altering experiences when people lost everything.”
He said there are currently 512 wildfire survivors living in shelters provided by the Oregon Department of Human Services. About 50 of them are living in RVs and the rest are in motels.
According to the final Wildfire Recovery Update, which the Oregon Department of Emergency Management issued Feb. 15, there are an additional 197 households in FEMA Direct Housing.
FEMA housing assistance was scheduled to end March 15, 2022, but was extended to Sept. 15, 2022, in Jackson, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion Counties. However, starting April 1, anyone still living in FEMA units will be required to pay monthly rent. Residents were informed of the extension and rental requirements the week of Jan. 18 and again the week of Feb. 15, the state said.
According to Flick, the best way the public can continue to support 2020 wildfire survivors is to contribute to the long-term recovery groups that formed in the counties impacted by the fires. They’re still filling the gaps and connecting people with resources for their unmet needs.
He also asks people to do what they can now to prepare for the upcoming wildfire season.