California Wildfires Making State’s Homeless Problem Even Worse

The state of California has the nation's highest homeless population.

People made homeless by the devastating Camp Fire live in a tent city growing around the Walmart parking lot in Chico, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
Digital First Media via Getty Im

With losses in cities like Paradise considered “total,” many California residents are finding themselves in potentially homeless situations as their communities burn.

The series of fires currently ravaging the state of California have torn through hundreds of thousands of acres of land, — 138,000 attributed to the Camp fire alone — which include the office buildings and homes of citizens across counties.

One affected business, Paradise Irrigation District, told employees that they would be out of work for the foreseeable future because it could take months to get the utilities up and running again after most of the town’s infrastructure was destroyed, NBC News reported.

“At this point, I’m taking it day-to-day,” one of the company’s employees, Jeff Hill, 29, told NBC. “There are no stores left, no restaurants, nothing. If people did want to live there, there is nowhere to eat, no water or power. It’s not even habitable. It’s like we went back a hundred years. It’s just crazy.”

Hill is lucky enough to have relatives who were able to take him in, but for others in California — home of the nation’s highest homeless population — the fire has pushed them to live out of their cars, in parks, in parking lot tent camps and on the streets.

Some are receiving federal and state aid to pay for lodging but there’s no guarantee displaced people will be able to find shelter.

“The housing crisis hit us hard like everywhere else,” said Sarah Thomas, program manager of the nonprofit Chico Housing Action Team. “The vacancy rate in Chico is around 1 percent. Now that we’ve lost all these homes in Paradise, there are going to be more people struggling to find a place to live.”

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