5 months after fires, Santa Rosa mobile home residents feeling left behind

Thursday marks five months since the North Bay wildfires, and while recovery is proceeding, one group says it's been locked-out and left-out.  

"These people don't fit in any one category and they're being left behind, they're falling through the cracks," said former Journey's End resident Jamie Sutton. 

Sutton was a live-in caregiver at the longtime mobile home park on Mendocino Avenue. 

The Tubbs Fire October 8-9 ravaged much of the complex when it jumped the 101 freeway.    

When her client's home burned, Sutton went from emergency shelter to motel to a FEMA-owned trailer at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. 

But she knows other former residents who are in motel rooms, or in their cars.   

Their mobile homes are considered uninhabitable, but they are still standing, and insurance coverage varies among owners and tenants. 

"I had a 91 year old disabled neighbor who is still paying $1,000 a month for a place he can't live in and that he can't cash out of," said Sutton. "So it's something I feel passionately about, that man should have gotten a trailer here before me." 

In recent weeks, some of the affected elderly have begun protesting outside the complex's chain-link fence.

They held signs, with messages such as "Senior Lives Matter." 

"I'm 77 years old, this is all I got out of the fire beside the clothes on my back," retiree Charlie Brown told KTVU, showing some coins and mementos in a small wooden box, retrieved from the ashes of his mobile home.  

Brown also lived in Journey's End, and now lives in a FEMA-provided trailer.

There are almost 200 such RV's in long rows at the fairgrounds. Brown's double-wide was three times as big as the space he has now.

But his heart goes out to the 40 residents who are caught in a bureaucratic limbo, unable to secure sufficient aid and unable to move their units off the condemned property.

"There's no space to move them to and many of them are too old and they can't be moved," explained Brown, "so the poor people there are between a rock and a hard place."
Sonoma County poet Cynthia Phipps heard about the plight of Journey's End residents. 

"These are our parents, these are our grandparents. These are the people who brought us into the world," said Phipps, showing her new book, full of inspirational messages and photos.

Phipps is donating the proceeds of her $20 book to the Journey's End survivors who are struggling financially.

The book, which she wrote in 3 weeks, is titled "Hope Rises - Rediscovering Beauty after the Fires." 

"These seniors are our diamonds, and we need to protect them. It's a community thing, not just a government thing and that's what people need to understand, ask yourself what can I do?"

For those, like Brown, who survived the near-destruction of the park, it's sad knowing their close-knit and low-cost community is never coming back. Affordable senior housing is planned for the redevelopment of the site, but former residents doubt it will be in within their grasp.  

"It's affordable for what the economy is now. But not for those of us who were seniors who retired 15 or 20 years ago," predicted Brown. 

"We were paying $500-600 a month and that included utilities, so we know they won't have that." 

To learn more about the firestorm fundraising poetry book, go to hoperisespoems.com .