Cascade Alliance

Nonprofit Natural Disaster Response: California Wildfires

As nonprofits that view our missions through the lens of economic or environmental justice, addressing roots of increased vulnerability to natural disaster among the populations we serve, as well as developing resources for disaster recovery, are increasingly a priority. A recent New York Times article and a government report indicate the devastating affects of natural disasters exists at the intersection of economic inequity and climate-change.

A SAMSHA report published in 2017, titled Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status, explains that natural disasters increase the likelihood low-income people will remain in poverty. Compounding financial stress, those in poverty are the most likely to live in housing exposed to natural disaster.

Citing the federal government report, a New York Times article about recent fires in California connects wildfire recovery to national trends that suggest low-income people are disproportionately likely to become homeless post-disaster. Wildfires raging through California have affected low and high-income communities indiscriminately, but low-income communities bear the brunt of recovery differently. Higher-income Californians are able to rebuild homes lost to wildfires with insurance money and typically have savings to subsidize livelihoods post-disaster. Conversely, lower income residents who have lost homes don’t have insurance policies or access to loans to rebuild, or the monetary resources to fall back on. Many have experienced homelessness or have been forced to relocate to other states as a result of the fires.

In order to position ourselves to best serve community need, addressing the distinct challenges posed by natural disasters is essential. What this looks like is evolving, but national networks of nonprofits like the Cascade Alliance are a strength in terms of developing recovery best-practices, as well as fostering the ability to transport aid materials across state lines. This was true of Eugene-based nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County (SVdP)’s efforts to offer support after California wildfires. SVdP’s presence in California facilitated its ability to send approximately 2,000 backpacks and other school supplies to school districts to distribute to children who had lost everything. The company has a rolling stock of trucks already moving through the state due to its mattress recycling operations. As such, the many preexisting points of contact between Oregon and California allowed SVdP to be flexible with disaster response.