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How climate change disasters hurt the working poor and immigrants

We know that when disaster strikes, the same structures that keep poor people poor keep many of us from recovering in a just and dignified way. Renters one paycheck away from losing the roof over their heads may not have access to resources to get them through an evacuation.

1. Hourly workers lose work – with little safety net

During emergencies, hourly workers may miss out on pay due to road closures, evacuation orders, and even a lack of childcare. Bosses aren’t required to pay hourly workers for work lost during a disaster. When people can’t work, they can’t pay for food and rent. Missing out on just a few hours of work can devastate working families and lead to displacement and houselessness.

2. Denied the right to recover

When renters lose their belongings in a flood, they’re sometimes ineligible for government-based recovery resources only available to homeowners. Many tenants may not have the immediate resources they need to shelter safely, or to evacuate and recover. Undocumented people across the state are often abandoned and left out of government assistance with hardly any safety net – especially after an emergency.

In a 2022 study, researchers found that manufactured housing communities are extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts. Older units sit in floodplains and hazard-exposed areas. Many of these units exist along the Russian River or in low-lying flood plains like the Laguna de Santa Rosa are prone to flooding. In Sonoma County, an estimated 1,773 households live in renter-occupied mobile homes – roughly 2.4% of renters across the county.

Mobile home renters are more likely to live on low or fixed incomes, have disabilities who need to charge life-saving devices, or are seniors with limited mobility. In the face of a massive winter rain storm, too many tenants may not have the immediate resources they need to shelter safely, or to evacuate and recover.

3. Preyed on by predatory profiteers

Profit-making systems like insurance conglomerates and wealthy energy profiteers face few consequences for abandoning communities impacted by climate change – by denying coverage or charging people more for merely trying to survive in a region marked by more extreme floods, fires and drought. For those ineligible for federal aid, some tenants are stranded to replace their personal belongings on their own dime. Most standard renter’s insurance doesn’t cover damage caused by weather-related water damage and floods. Parasitic payday lender opportunists are more likely to take advantage of working families trying to rebuild their lives – charging monstrous upfront fees on emergency loans. And companies like PG&E use loopholes to avoid accountability for the lives they’ve destroyed from negligence.

4. Face extra barriers during evacuations

Evacuations are a disproportionately traumatic event for communities of color and undocumented people. The Sheriff – whose office oversees evictions – is also responsible for managing evacuations. In Sonoma County, the Sheriff’s office is mired with a history of brutalizing and killing unarmed community members and immigrant families. Existing distrust fuels fear among already traumatized communities during evacuations – even if evacuation centers don’t ask about immigration status.

We keep us safe

We shouldn’t have to wait for a massive emergency to upend our lives for us to realize that the current system isn’t working. Crisis after crisis, our families, our communities and our livelihoods are on the line. It’s essential that we turn to each other to build the necessary power to change our reality.

Moments like these remind us that together, we are capable of building powerful solutions when we center the experiences and wisdom of those most impacted. Join us in giving voice to the changes we deserve – not just when disaster strikes – but year-round.

Contribute directly to mutual aid:
  1. Donate to UndocuFund: Centering their experiences toward solutions, immigrant leaders and their allies built the first-ever mutual aid network for undocumented people in the country: UndocuFund. Founded in 2017 in an immediate response to the Tubbs fire, this mutual aid network models the power of a coalition built by the community for the community to meet the material needs of undocumented communities amid worsening climate catastrophes and inequitable disaster relief.

  2. Donate to Food 4 All / Comida Para Todos: Food for All is a volunteer-run and Latina-led mutual aid network that helps feed families across the Sonoma Valley – especially in times of crisis.

  3. Donate to the Sonoma County Tenants Union: In order to create a housing system that truly honors housing as a human right, we must build a base of organized tenants. Together, we build tenant power through education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing. Become a member and fund grassroots power!

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