In The Wake Of Disaster, Some Places To Turn

We want to take a moment to express sympathy and solidarity with the people impacted by what is being called the Wine Country Wildfires of 2017. Helping those in housing, economic, and emotional crisis is what BOSS has done for 46 years. We also operated two crisis support centers following natural disasters in Alameda County, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1991 Oakland firestorm, and we want to share some of what we have learned.

Loss of Home and Belongings

These fires are some of the most destructive fires in our history with nearly 10,000 structures yellow and red tagged. The loss of “structures” may sound innocuous, but many of these buildings are either homes or businesses meaning the loss of homes and income. Where does one turn when they have lost everything? Friends and family often provide solid ground in an unsteady landscape, but there are other resources too:
  • There are wonderful individuals and companies out there who are doing their part to offer special housing deals for people, and their pets, impacted by the fires.
  • California 211 is a great resource for all services, including emergency and evacuation shelter information. You can call 2-1-1 from any phone, or go to their website for information.
  • MarinNapa, and Sonoma counties also have listings of emergency and evacuee shelters in their areas, there are some which even allow pets and have mental health services available.
  • Community Action Partnership Sonoma County is offering Disaster Relief Housing Services (DRHS) to evacuees and people who have lost their homes.


Emotional trauma can be immediate, it can be cumulative, it can set in gradually, or after a delay. Emotional trauma can interfere with ones ability to take care of essential housing, financial, or logistical needs and can lead to even greater crisis. Many of us have an emotional support system in friends and family, but if you have experienced trauma, please do not hesitate to contact your health provider for therapeutic resources. If you do not have health coverage, find local free or low cost health clinics on 211 or call your city’s mental health department. There is no shame in asking for help. Please reach out if you need it.

Health Issues

Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle
Poor air quality due to wildfires can lead to respiratory issues, but smoke can also affect your eyes, nose, heart, lungs, and skin. People with diabetes, heart conditions, seniors, pregnant women, children and the elderly, and people with lung conditions are more at risk. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has all kinds of data, resources, and helpful information. If you have any symptoms, please contact your health provider immediately, or if you do not have health coverage, find local free or low cost health clinics on 211 or call your city’s health department.

Loss of Employment and Income

There are hundreds of people who have lost their homes, their belongings, family heirlooms, and memories, but that is not the only loss. Many others will have lost their livelihood as a result. People who have jobs in homes such as home health workers, child care workers, gardeners, and contractors, as well as many others will not have a place of employment. Their employers have been displaced, and so too have their jobs. Others will have their place of business gone. Office buildings, mechanics, people who tend to horses and livestock, all the kins of places and more have been lost. If these people may not have lost their homes in the fires, but might loose them due to the loss of their employment. The EDD has Disaster Related Services, and that is the first place people should check. There are also the previously mentioned Local Assistance Centers (LAC) where people can access a host of government agencies and services in one place. Many counties also have employment services, including Napa and Sonoma. Here individuals can write, or polish their resume, search online for employment, or get connected to local Temp Agencies — a great way to get almost immediate employment. Call 211 or visit 211 for other employment assistance programs in your region.

How you can help:

We all want to help, and for many of us that means going through our pantries and closets looking for items that can be donated. This is not always the best use of resources in an emergency situation. In-Kind donations (item donations such as clothing, food, etc.) can create a whole host of additional issues, the most pressing is that these items take up a tremendous amount of space – space that emergency shelters are reluctant to sacrifice if it means housing fewer people. In these solutions cash donations are usually best, but there are places always looking for in-kind donations:

Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle
Volunteer!!! Every nonprofit needs volunteers all the time. Emergency situations even more so. Salvation Army, Food Banks, your local homeless shelter, and many others can use your help. The best resource for finding volunteer opportunities if through your favorite charity’s website, Craigslist in your area, or VolunteerMatch.
How to Give Cash:

Only give directly to reputable organizations. Many of us are tempted to donate to a charity if they are soliciting outside of your local grocer. Scammers use this ploy often. An individual might make up a charity, or talk about one whose name is very similar to one you know of already, or an individual might misrepresent themselves as being from a reputable charity.  Always contact the organization directly to make a donation. The Federal Trade Commission has information on spotting and reporting suspect nonprofits.

Organize your faith institution, civic club, school, or other group to collect and distribute needed items. Talk to victims and see what they need that maybe others haven’t thought of yet.

Who to Give To:

 Rebuilding After the Fires and Amid a Housing Shortage

Before the wildfires, housing in the North San Francisco Bay Area was already in short supply. Now, after thousands of

A sign of hope in the ashes of a home consumed by the Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa, California, Thursday, October 12, 2017. (Karl Mondon/ Bay Area News Group)

residents have lost their homes, the region faces some tough questions about where the displaced will live and how to rebuild. Santa Rosa novelist Stefan Kiesbye, who escaped the fire with his wife and two dogs, is one of those who lost most of his possessions and is contemplating the memories of a bygone life.

So many people are banding together to help individuals impacted by this tragedy. We are proud of our strong Bay Area communities, their resilience, and their commitment to each other. Let’s keep the spirit, pride, and support going. Let’s work to get everyone housed, get everyone employed, and get everyone as whole as possible in the wake of such tragedy and loss.