CA response faces limited resources

BY KAREN BOTHAM | CLEAR LAKE, CA | January 19, 1999


In just 12 weeks a team of five couples, under the direction of Faith In Action Team, were able to

restore a way of life to 24 families who lost homes in severe flooding last year.

Eunice Bowen, FIAT's director, has about 20 more families to put back into homes, but volunteers are limited and the money from grants and

FIAT's treasury, is running out.

Nearly one year ago, winter storms caused the largest natural lake in California to overflow its banks, shutting roads, damaging homes and

businesses and forcing the evacuation of several hundred residents.It was the worst flood in almost 90 years and many of the 54,000 residents

of Lake County lost some or all of their property.

Bowen and with the help of dedicated volunteers were able to help about 35 families -- 24 through actual construction work and the other nine

by helping them obtain enough money from either the Federal Emergency Management Agency or their personal insurance company to hire

outside help.

But the job's not done yet and some people are still months away from having their lives back to normal.

The interfaith organization needs volunteers, especially those who are familiar with the construction business. If they have a license, so much

better. But Bowen is particular about who she's sending to help.

"If I wouldn't have them at my house, I won't send them out to a client," she said. And most of her remaining grant money stipulates a licensed

contractor must oversee the work.

"It doesn't go far when I have to use licensed contractors," Bowen said, estimating the volunteer team of five couples did about $300,000 worth

of work on 24 homes. "We've actually been able to accomplish quite a lot with the money we had."

The two grants totaled $76,000; the money from FIAT's treasury was $40,000. A major problem Bowen now faces, however, is replenishing

the organization's treasury.

While the organization seeks both donations and new volunteers, it continues to attempt to make a difference in the lives of flood-ravaged

residents who are struggling just to survive. Elderly on fixed incomes, working families who barely scrape by and the disabled face a double hit

when forced to bounce back from a disaster.

All of the people her organization attempts to help have stories of heartache. People like the middle-aged disabled man and his disabled son

who are still homeless despite the best efforts of FIAT. "I'm having a really hard time finding him a home in the area he wants to be in," Bowen

said.

His son was making progress in the special education program of their home school district. The best interest of the child, his father feels, is to

stay in the same school. But unfortunately there's no home to be found at a reasonable enough price. The pair are now in a homeless shelter

after exhausting the kindness of their friends.

He's not the only one with a story. There's the woman whose husband lost his battle to cancer shortly after moving back into their rehabed

house. Bowen said she thinks the man held on long enough to know his wife would be taken care of and not have shelter worries.

And then there's the man who was prone to blackouts and mini-strokes who with his Alzheimer's inflicted wife who found himself in an all too

familiar Catch 22 in this flood-prone area. He had a grant to fix his house, contingent on finding a way to elevate his house. He was promised

money from the government to elevate the house, but the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly -- even during times of crises.

Bowen said she finally convinced him he might not live long enough to see the government funding. FIAT was able to find an alternate source

of funding for elevating the house, allowing the grant designated for refurbishing to kick in. The family recently moved back in, and although

his wife's Alzheimer's worsened during the ordeal, the man's strokes and blackouts have ceased.

But even if the disaster response organization could find the resources to put those 20 remaining families who have been identified, in homes

overnight, more work would need to be done. "I still know there are others out there that I don't even know about yet," Bowen said.


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