Help for Disaster Recovery

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

February 9, 2023

Los Osos resident Alice Stone surveys damage to her home in Los Osos. Photo by Dean Sullivan

Help for residents seeking recovery assistance following the January storms is available in-person in San Luis Obispo. 

Heavy rains, flooding, road closures, and a mudslide resulted in San Luis Obispo County’s inclusion in the major disaster declaration issued by President Joe Biden. That declaration opened the doors to apply for help from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while local organizations also came to the rescue.

“If you are a homeowner or renter located in a federally declared county and have received damage as a result of the recent storms and flooding, and your damages are not covered by insurance, you should register for FEMA assistance,” said FEMA Media Relations Specialist, Renee Bafalis. “Every survivor’s situation is different and therefore the amount of assistance varies. The maximum grant from FEMA is $40,000, but that is strictly based on the need.”

The temporary Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) and Local Assistance Center (LAC) opened at the Veterans Memorial Building on January 24 to provide resources to residents impacted with storm-related damages. It is set to close Feb. 14. 

The DRC/LAC is a partnership between FEMA, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), and the County of San Luis Obispo.

“The DRC is a one stop shop for residents to get services if they were affected by the storms,” said County Emergency Services Coordinator Rachel Monte Dion. “They can apply for FEMA financial assistance, SBA loans, and get connected to wraparound services through the County and non-profits. Even if you apply for FEMA assistance online, we encourage you to come in person to the DRC to receive other services. The recovery process can be confusing and the DRC also allows you to talk to a real person and work through the process.”

The center also has information and services from agencies such as: County Behavioral Health, Environmental Health, and Planning and Building; DMV, IRS, insurance services, Small Business Administration, legal assistance, and non-profits. Information from the Ag Commissioner, County Assessor and Clerk Recorder is also available. 

The center is expected to close Feb. 14. Residents can get help seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Center staff are available to help with applying for federal assistance and disaster loans, update applications, and learn about other resources that are available. Spanish and ASL interpreter services are present. Readers needing transportation to the DRC/LAC, should call the County Office of Emergency Services at (805) 781-5678.

Appointments are not needed, and folks should bring their identification card, social security number, address of damaged primary residence, description of damage, information about insurance coverage, bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds, address where you receive mail and telephone number. 

“As of Friday [Feb. 3], 1,128 county residents have applied for FEMA financial assistance,” said Dion. “There has been $1.5 million in federal grant money awarded to County residents who sustained damage from the storms.”

Additionally, FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams “are visiting neighborhoods impacted by the storms to help residents apply for FEMA assistance and answer questions about federal assistance,” the County said. But readers should beware of potential fraudsters. “DSA teams,” the County cautioned, “wear FEMA attire and have federal photo identification badges.”

Readers should note that the deadline to apply for FEMA financial assistance is March 16, 2023. To apply online for assistance, go to www.DisasterAssistance.gov, download the FEMA mobile app or call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. If you use video relay service (VRS), captioned telephone service or others, give FEMA the number for that service. Helpline operators are available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; press 2 for Spanish and 3 for an interpreter who speaks your language.

Questions for the County Office of Emergency Services should be directed to at (805) 781-5678. 

Upon hearing of families whose homes flooded and others who were stranded or evacuated for safety reasons, the staff at the non-profit Los Osos Cares sent inquiries to community funders for assistance. 

“We were pleased to receive $7000 from the SLO Community Foundation for flood relief and another $3000 from SLO County UndocuSupport [see below] to help individuals who were impacted by the flooding,” Executive Director Linda Quesenberry said “The Los Osos Cares Board of Directors voted that $10,000 be used for this aid.” 

Funds were made available to people impacted by the flood especially if they were forced to evacuate their homes and had to rent another space for shelter. 

Just obtaining a motel room on the hardest hit night of the storm proved to be difficult for many due to power outages that left motel managers unable to process a credit card. 

“Unless a person had enough cash to pay for the room,” Quesenberry said, “they couldn’t get a place. For some obtaining some of the emergency funds that Los Osos Cares offered saved the day or night.” 

Los Osos Cares has volunteers on hand to assist with the federal paperwork and any other source of funding they may need.

Because it is difficult to understand what losing one’s home to a disaster of this sort is like without experiencing it, referrals to agencies that can help with the trauma are available. Los Osos Cares also has two psychologists for those in need of counseling.

“In an area where finding decent housing is next to impossible due to lack of inventory and high rents, these impacted people face a difficult next few months,” said Los Osos Cares. “Temporary housing is almost unknown here and consider the fact that one must still pay a mortgage no matter that living in the premises is impossible. Adding the cost of a high rent for however long it would take to repair the home could force some into extreme financial difficulty. Renters may have lost their furniture and other belongings and face trying to find other shelter. Whether many have flood insurance is unknown. What is known is that there is help available. “

Readers in need of assistance are encouraged to call Los Osos Cares at 805-592-2701.

Local organizations that serve undocumented and mixed-status immigrant residents in the areas most affected by the recent flooding disaster received $21,000 in grant funding from San Luis Obispo County UndocuSupport . 

It is estimated that 9,000 undocumented residents live and work in San Luis Obispo County. 

Bafalis said undocumented families may apply for FEMA assistance if there is a child living in the home that was damaged who was born in the United States and has a social security number or there is an adult living in the home that was damaged that has legal status in the United States.

That won’t help everyone. UndocuSupport awarded grants to Los Osos Cares, the Center for Family Strengthening, the Paso Robles Housing Authority, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Monterey, 5 Cities Homeless Coalition, and the Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success. The organizations will distribute the funds to local residents and families in need through their existing programs. 

“Many undocumented immigrants mitigate the effects of our county’s high cost of living and affordable housing shortage by doubling and tripling up in housing,” said a UndocuSupport new release. “The ability to be self-sufficient in times of disaster and emergency preparedness are directly impacted by their vulnerable situation, because storing food, water, and emergency supplies in a doubled-up environment is a challenge due to a lack of physical space. Economic insecurity is another barrier to emergency preparedness as it impacts the ability to purchase emergency preparedness items.”

Since UndocuSupport’s inception in April 2020 they have raised over $326,000 to provide essential support to more than 771 local immigrant families across SLO County. Support went to families for medical care, childcare, transportation, food, utilities and funeral expenses.

For more information, go to sloundocusupport.org. 

The Small Business Administration is providing services to help small businesses impacted by the disaster. See story on page 2.

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