FEMA assistance center opens in downtown Santa Rosa
More than 100 people lined up in downtown Santa Rosa before 9 a.m. Saturday seeking information and access to services at a newly established Federal Emergency Management Agency hub.
The local assistance center, on the first floor of The Press Democrat building at 427 Mendocino Ave., and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It brings together federal, state and local agencies as a “one-stop-shop” to help people rebuild their lives.
“I lost everything,” said Felis Domingues, a 70-year-old Fountaingrove resident who was at the front of the line. “All my personal documents are gone. I'm not sure want FEMA can do but I'm looking for information.”
By midday, the center was humming with people, some carrying checklists and ticking off services they need to recover from the deadly fires.
Domingues, who has been staying with a friend in Sebastopol since her home was destroyed early Monday morning, said she was especially interested in receiving help finding temporary housing.
People who have been left homeless in the fire can receive money from FEMA for temporary housing and to recoup losses. The California Department of Motor Vehicles will also issue new driver's licenses at the center for people who lost theirs in the fire as well as offering help with title papers.
Other agencies on hand deal with vital records such as birth and marriage certificates, water and utility bill information, counseling, public transportation, property tax information and other services.
Residents - even those covered by homeowner, commercial and auto policies at the time of the disaster - are urged to apply online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by phone at 800-621-3362.
“This is almost a one-stop-shop, which is really nice,” said Shari Rochester, whose home on Brookdale Drive in the fire-ravaged Sleepy Hollow neighborhood behind Hidden Valley School was destroyed.
The magnitude of the tragedy has left many not knowing exactly what services they need and when. The operation on Mendocino Avenue helped some to ask questions they didn't know they had.
“You don't really think about what you need until you see it,” said Edita Uresti, whose apartment on Hopper Avenue was destroyed in the blaze.
Sonia Garcia and Oscar Roldan escaped from their apartment on Old Redwood Highway with their two young children and nothing else, not a wallet or a purse. Garcia was wearing her pajamas and socks when she fled.
Saturday marked the couple's first real attempt to get documents together and find permanent housing. Garcia had a flexible binder with dividers for her family's paperwork. On the flap was a sticker that read, “You got this.”
In the early going, Garcia was accepting clothes because her family had nothing, but then it became clear that while thoughtful, garments are not what they need now.
“I had a really close friend who tried to give me clothes but I had to say no,” she said. “I have nowhere to put them.”