Life was tough and lean for James Blair Robinson and Donna Jackson even before the firestorm of 2017 put them into a disaster evacuation center with few prospects for getting out.
The couple lived the past 33 years at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park, at present a locked-up, taped-off, asbestos contamination site and scene of destruction.
Robinson, who’s almost 70 but looks younger, says he and his girlfriend, who’s 54, live on about $28,000 a year, most of that coming as disability benefits. They paid about $400 a month to rent the space for the 46-year-old Fleetwood mobile home Robinson owns.
“That’s why you live at Journey’s End,” he said.
His home was damaged but was among the few at the park not destroyed by the Tubbs fire, which wiped out the Fountaingrove Inn just kitty-corner across north Mendocino Avenue, and much of the adjacent Hilton hotel along with many of the pricey homes of Fountaingrove.
For Robinson’s mobile home to have come through the historic disaster mostly intact would seem to be good news. He thinks not.
He said he’s had officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and his insurance company tell him that because his mobile home was not destroyed, he can provide for his future housing needs by moving the single-wide Fleetwood from the ravaged Journey’s End to another park.
“A ’71?” he asked. “It would break up. And where would I put it?”
He has to wonder if he’d be better off had the old mobile home melted along with most of his neighbors’.
He and Jackson, who met at Santa Rosa Junior College in the early 1980s, are feeling their way through the fire recovery as longtime Santa Rosa residents who “just scraped by” before the terrifying morning of Oct. 9, had no option following evacuation other than settling into an evacuation center and have a hard time imagining where they’ll be, and how they’ll get by, six months or a year from now.
The couple had lived at the disaster shelter at Santa Rosa’s Finley Community Center for nearly a month when they left Saturday night. The city and Catholic Charities hope to find transitional shelter — a motel room, a room in a home — for the remaining approximately 45 evacuees and to allow the Finley Center to begin a return to normal use by Tuesday.
To locate a place for Robinson and Jackson and their cat, Tiger, was not easy. Catholic Charities’ Jennielynn Holmes said four shelter volunteers worked for hours to find a motel that would accept the cat.
“We finally found one,” she said.
Robinson and Jackson packed their cat and other possessions into the 1994 Ford Mustang that Robinson’s mother gave him and drove Saturday from the Finley Center to the renovated Astro Motel on Santa Rosa Avenue, near downtown.
“I got to sleep in a bed,” said a grateful Robinson, who told of being sober since 1981 and managing his bipolar disorder with medication.
He said that before FEMA paid to put them up at the Astro, he and Jackson were sheltered and fed by the Red Cross and Catholic Charities and given all sorts of things, all of which they appreciate.