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Catholic Charities helps with post-fire recovery in Brewster

With immediate post-fire needs in the Methow Valley, which burned for several weeks this summer, met by the Red Cross and other first responders, Catholic Charities of the Spokane Diocese is ready to respond to long-term unmet needs, said Scott Cooper, director of parish social ministries with Catholic Charities.

Bishop Blase Cupich asked for a collection, which has raised approximately $60,000 so far.

“Our presence in the area is through the Brewster Food Bank,” said Scott, who has been in Brewster to connect with the people.

“After first responders left, people are still struggling with the loss of their homes,” he said.  “There were no half-burned homes.  People suffered complete losses, yet the house next door may have been left untouched because of the way the wind blew.  About 30 percent of the homes that were lost were uninsured.”

President Barack Obama did not sign a disaster declaration, limiting funds available.

Scott said Catholic Charities has a three-part response:

1) It operates the Brewster Food Bank, which by the end of August began to see new people.

“We are keeping an eye on the food bank.   As they began seeing more people, there has been more local support, which is addressing the need so far,” he said.  “We expect that may shift.”

2) It is working with a local furniture store to buy beds, so those who were burned out and have temporary housing have places to sleep.

3) It is looking long-term at the need to develop affordable housing resources in Okanogan County, where there was not enough affordable housing available even before the fire.

“In Pateros, a portion of the residences and community burned to the ground the night of July 17 and on July 18 the fire circled back,” Scott said.

“Communities with little housing stock lost housing,” he said.  “Some farm-worker temporary housing for seasonal workers at orchards was lost.”

Some people who lost their homes still have jobs there, but there are few vacancies in rentals, he said, so some are doubling up with friends and family.

Some found housing 25 miles or farther away in Omak, Chelan or Wenatchee, adding the cost of commuting.

Catholic Charities is also talking with Okanogan County Community Action Council to be part of the conversations on developing affordable housing as a long-term way to stabilize families.

When Scott visited the Methow Valley on Aug. 5, the fire was 80 percent contained.  It did not go out until rains came the second week of August, and then caused flooding because the ground cover was burned off, he said.

On Aug. 5, he saw many volunteer groups helping families. 

For information, call 358-4273.





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