CHICO, Calif. (KTVU) - The massive new homeless problem brought about by the Paradise Camp Fire problem already overwhelms what local and state agencies can handle.
On Friday, hundreds of people descended on the multi-agency relief center in the old Sears Building at Chico Mall. This is where people can apply for all kinds of local, state and federal benefits and programs. It is often a long, slow process.
But the real story is just across the street at the instant village next to and inside Walmart's parking lot, where KTVU met disabled veteran Les Herrick and his girlfriend.
"I've been kind of sleeping in my car for the last two days. We need to set up a tent. We need to stretch out. We're gonna stretch out and relax," said Herrick as he prepared to establish a location. Besides this overwhelming worry, Herrick says he's been fighting with the Veterans Administration to recover $22,000 withheld from him due to a clerical error.
"Now we have this fire and I could really use that check today," said Herrick.
In a word, the camp grounds, though a well-intended, citizen supported effort, is in reality, a mess that mixes the long term homeless with the new homeless.
"It causes tension between those two groups because you have people who don't have a home any more feeling like these people who are homeless and just coming to take what is theirs," said Lorenzo Morrotti, a San Francisco State Student Journalist documenting the problem.
The ultimate question here: How long can this village be sustained? And that is a question that has no answer.
"These people need out of here immediately. This is a humanitarian crisis," said volunteer Good Samaritan Alexandra Kriz. Wayne Williamson not only lost his rental home, his employer's business also burned down, leaving him jobless and stuck here for now.
"I think it's not gonna last long here. It's not sustainable. The rains are coming. With all these low spots, it's gonna fill up with water. I see a lot of trash. Last night there's fights in the parking lot and I just don't think it is gonna be sustainable," said Williamson.
Pet groomer Alexandra Kriz had her staff shampooed evacuee’s dogs yesterday for free, but had to come back today with baby masks to help humans.
"I couldn't sleep last night and there was a little boy named Eric that I came to find out this morning that was looking at me. He's a year and a half old. He was in a car with no mask," said Kriz.
Additionally, there's the very real worry about eviction. "I heard one rumor on social media that this camp was going to be closed because homeless people had brought in guns and knives," said housing activist Patrick Newman of Chico Friends on the Street.
"There's rumors about them getting kicked out Sunday," said student journalist Morrotti.
"I'm not leaving. Where am I gonna go? I have no home to go to. Where am I gonna go?" asked Herrick.