As of June 1, The Thomas Fire has been officially declared out by Los Padres officials, but the scars, and some families in need of assistance, still remain. Particularly hit hard and still in the process of recovering: migrant workers and undocumented immigrants who were not able to apply for federal assistance.
While a lack of funding keeps migrant families on a long wait list, a surplus of funds remains elsewhere. The United Way of Ventura County says that residents who lost their homes to the fire claimed just $320,000 of $500,000 available in immediate aid and only $500,000 of $1.5 million in hardship funds made available for housing assistance during what it dubs as Phase 1 and Phase 2 of fund disbursement.
Long-term recovery effort funding, a little over $2 million, will include rental assistance and temporary support of housing, and will begin to be disbursed during Phase 3, according to VC United Way CEO Eric Harrison.
“I think it’s important that the community understands that the Phase 3 funds will be spent and invested,” said Harrison. “100 percent will go to those affected by the Thomas Fire and [Montecito] flood.”
Harrison cites a lack of awareness of how to and where to apply for assistance as reasons why there remain funds, pointing toward websites that show over a dozen charities available. He says that the funds remaining from Phases 1 and 2 will be “leveraged,” some already in the process of being disbursed, including $300,000 for immigrant farm and service workers on a waiting list for Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslide recovery funds through the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE),
Lucas Zucker, policy and communications director for CAUSE has been seeking funding for the 805 Undocufund, a grant-based initiative to assist undocumented immigrants and migrant workers who were affected by the Thomas Fire. For these families, federally funded assistance programs are unavailable due to their immigration status.
The Undocufund, modeled after a similar fund set up in the wake of the Sonoma fires in early 2017, is a joint effort by the coalition of Future Leaders of America, Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP).
The 805 Undocufund has hosted clinics to serve families in need, and in February, hosted a clinic at which 82 families were granted funds, totaling $143,600 in financial assistance. On average, a family receives $1,750, ranging from $500 to $3,000. The fund has already provided $630,000, assisting near to 400 families.
Zucker says that 1,200 families remain on the waiting list, however, adding that as fast as donations arrive, they are disbursed.
“We’re spending as we go, we don’t have very much,” said Zucker. “We’re spending as fast as we’re raising it.”
Harrison says that the VC United Way board has approved $300,000 in donations to CAUSE, just one way that the remaining funds will be invested.
“There is still tremendous need; for the Undocufund alone they have 1,000 people waiting, so we will be able to leverage those funds,” said Harrison.
Additionally, an influx of money came from a benefit concert hosted by Katy Perry in February at the Santa Barbara Bowl, from which Zucker says the fund received between $100,000 and $150,000.
Zucker says that the longer removed from the fire, the harder it is to get donations.
“We need to raise over $2 million based on our current average grant size to serve the 1,200 families on our waiting list,” said Zucker. “I’m hoping we can get another little spurt of awareness with six months after the disaster follow-up stories. Unfortunately, a lot of the national attention has moved on and so there’s not really a new influx of funds.”