Over the past three days, hundreds of people have lined up in front of The Press Democrat building in downtown Santa Rosa, not because they are looking for information but because they are looking for assistance.
The first floor of our building at 427 Mendocino Ave. has become the Local Assistance Center organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help victims of the fires. And there are plenty. At last count, the number of homes and businesses destroyed had reached 3,947. The number of structures damaged is listed at 159. Th total losses from the fire are estimated to exceed $3 billion.
The problem is that many victims, especially those who have found refuge with friends and family, are unsure where to go for help or whether they even qualify for any support.The answer is clear. They need to start on the first floor — of our building.
A number of individuals were under the assumption that the Local Assistance Center is only for those who qualify for FEMA assistance. Not so.
All residents, including those who are covered by homeowner, commercial and auto insurance policies, are encouraged to come to the Local Assistance Center to start their recovery journey.
While those who are covered by insurance may not qualify for FEMA assistance — property owners can find out for sure by applying online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or calling 800-621-3362 — plenty of other services are available. Federal, state and local organizations of all kinds are here.
For example, representatives from the state Department of Motor Vehicles are on hand to help those who lost vehicles in the fire and need to get a new pink slip and registration or replace a photo ID.
The county assessor and tax collector’s offices are taking down the addresses of homes that have been lost to ensure that new appraisals are done and owners are given more time to pay property taxes. County representatives also are on hand to help getting replacements for birth certificates, marriage licenses and other critical documents that may be needed. Most important, officials are available to help with housing assistance, for either finding a new place to live or coming up with ideas for finding financing to afford a new place.
In addition, many other organizations are on-site to help with questions related to school and child care, health issues, legal needs and services for elderly or disabled individuals.
The process begins at a table where individuals sit down with a person who asks about their situation and their concerns. They are then assigned to various stations around the office area. Translators and child care are available as are food and refreshments.
One Santa Rosa resident who lost his home said it look a while to get through everything, but the process was efficient and having everyone in one place saved hours of traveling time. “It was the best three hours of the week for me,” he said.
Over the weekend, 920 households received assistance at the center. By noon on Monday, another 236 received help.
“Anybody who has suffered a loss should go in,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day for at least two weeks. But as one FEMA worker told those who lined the sidewalk on the morning of the center’s first day, “We will be here until we are done.”