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Where I Stand: How to be supportive to evacuees

     We are not all okay. We are all processing things at our own pace in our own time, but some evacuees have gotten a hold of me to report that they are often faced with unnecessarily officiousness with organizations and people who are trying to help. We do not all have the same level of income or friends to stay with in Quincy.

     When someone is in the middle of trauma mode the last thing they need is for other people not affected by the trauma to make them dance and jump through hoops in order to get basic needs met.

     There are a few things people who have evacuated their homes because of the Dixie Fire would like other people to understand.

     Identification. Not all of us have official pieces of paper that tie us to Greenville. All my identification that I have on me ties me to southern California. Everything I had that tied me to Greenville was in the office that burned down. I know I am not the only one. I knew many people in downtown Greenville that barely had any identification because they didn’t drive and hadn’t gotten around to an ID yet. So if you’re running food programs in local restaurants that are identification based, you could be hurting, not helping people.

     Toys. Evacuated parents got turned away from the free toy drive today if their kids were not with them. Let’s examine this one. Kids are traumatized right now. I know many of all ages who do not want to be out in public and don’t want to talk to anyone. So what if their parents are the ones going to pick up a toy instead of them? Who is it hurting to give the toy to the parents (someone they trust) rather than force the kid out in public? This seems like it could have a little more compassion.

     Stereotypes and Misconceptions. The other day at the Relief for Evacuees center at the Grange Hall, a couple of volunteers who were making deliveries were treated badly by other volunteers who looked and appeared of a higher social class. We are all in this together regardless of whether we are middle income, working class, or part of the working poor. Volunteers are volunteers and there shouldn’t be a hierarchy. Should it matter that two volunteers weren’t clean-shaven and their work jeans looked like, well, like they’d been working?

     Speaking of misconceptions and stereotypes, I’m already tired of the word ‘evacuee.’ It makes it sound like we’re some weird other and not people. It lumps a group of people with residential geography and circumstance together—which is fine—but it also seems to imply some sort of helplessness and that’s not cool nor is it entirely true.

     Trauma Persona. The thing about evacuating one’s residence in a life-threatening emergency is it represents a supreme lack of personal control. Wildfire has seen to it that we have little to no control over so many elements of our lives right now. It doesn’t make most people operate and function in the way they usually function. Many of us are living in shock still. It’s the time for compassion and love and understanding. It’s not the time for making people jump through hoops or expect that all will be able to vocalize need and gratitude.

     Volunteering. Volunteer because you want to volunteer, not because you are supposed to volunteer. People on the receiving end always know who is being empathetic and who is doing it to make themselves look good. The Dixie Fire affects everyone. There but for the grace of God, go I sort of thing. There but for a favorable wind.

     Those of us in evacuation truly appreciate all those people who are helping ease the pain of losing everything, of helping kids not back in school yet pass the time constructively, but not all of us are up for sharing our story. Not all of us can ask for help. Not all of us can recover. And not all of us can navigate this strange new world with intentionally set obstacles.

     I imagine some of the officiousness with volunteer groups is to wean out potential grifters. What if someone picks up a toy and that person didn’t have a kid? What if a hungry person wasn’t actually evacuated and has a home somewhere that they can go to? I respectfully ask, should that even matter?

     So I ask my volunteer groups and aid organizations here in Plumas County to maybe err on the side of humanity and compassion first and save the bean counting and officiousness for when we’ve moved beyond this first 10 days of catastrophe.

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