I’ve been noticing a lot of reporting on the fires in Northern California, talking about all sorts of things. Some of the reports compare the situation with Hurricane Katrina, for example, or talk about measures being taken for the comfort of evacuees. I note that the finger pointing has already started, with officials being accused of not being prepared, or not being ready. How, exactly, does one prepare for epic wildfires driven by notorious Santa Ana winds?
One thing I don’t see is a discussion of what happens to the renters.
You know, people who own their homes have insurance. To varying degrees, to be certain, but their homes will eventually be rebuilt, and they will be given funds to help replace their belongs. Do these funds replace heirloom furniture, photographs, and other artefacts of human life? No, of course not, but at least people will have a place, a base, to rebuild their lives from. A starting point will be established.
Renters don’t have that. Renters, as my friend T puts it, are screwed. Almost no one has renter’s insurance because it seems ludicrous and it can get expensive. Those that do may not have fire protection in their coverage, because that area is known for having bad fires. Renters didn’t own homes, don’t have sites to rebuild homes, and now they have nothing. Many of them lost their jobs, and they are being forced to create their lives again from scratch. No furniture, no clothing, no kitchen utensils. No books. No beds. No towels to call their own. Imagine not owning a towel.
I have always been afraid of fire. There aren’t many things I’m afraid of, but fire is one of them. The thought of having everything taken away from me, of being suddenly homeless without the means to make a livelihood, to get dressed in the morning, to function. I would imagine it’s a common human fear, because it’s so visceral and basic.
I hope that some sort of plan is being made to help people in this position. Assistance payments that aren’t bound up in red tape, for example. Some of these people don’t even know if they are in this position or not yet—my butcher was telling me yesterday that her cousin might have lost her house, but they don’t know yet. Lost, like it wandered off in the mall and no one can find it. Her cousin is eight months pregnant. Imagine being eight months pregnant with a home, a secure job, and a life, and having all of that suddenly pulled out from under you. Having to stay with friends, to give birth in a strange hospital with a strange doctor. Knowing that you don’t have any baby clothes, that the changing table you just bought has been immolated.
There’s probably going to be a lot of coverage in the next few months on the events down south, but I have a feeling that it will continue to neglect the renters, because no one really wants to face what’s happening to them. As one renter to another, I know the feeling of powerlessness and misery, and I wish there was something more I could do.