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Spanish speaking only Camp Fire survivors face recovery barriers

Camp Fire survivors who don't speak English are having a hard time getting help. Action News Now spoke to one such survivor and shows us her struggle and who's stepping up to help.

Posted: Dec 6, 2019 6:57 AM
Updated: Dec 7, 2019 4:46 PM

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - Camp Fire survivors who don't speak English are having a hard time getting help.

Action News Now spoke to one such survivor and shows us her struggle and who's stepping up to help.

The nonprofit "California Hope" for Butte County has more than 30 people working to get help to those Camp Fire survivors.

"I don't have much, but I have it thanks to the people who helped me," said Maria Carmen Gallegos, a Camp Fire survivor who only speaks Spanish.

"I've gone through rough times. I've had so many feelings that I couldn't comprehend," Gallegos said.

So she turned to Alejandra Melgarejo and Bianka Norton they work for California Hope of Butte County.

They help people like Maria with translating applications online for free.

"We're mobile so we meet people wherever they're comfortable meeting whether that's in the park, their house, a coffee shop," Melgarejo said. 

"We've educated her a lot on mental health and what healthy mental habits are," Norton said.

"One of the difficulties is the language barrier. A lot of the resources out there are pretty much in English," Melgarejo said.

Alejandra says applications for the Wildfire Assistance Program and the 211 intake form are only in English.

"I feel like a lot of people didn't know how big the community is so they gear more of the application resources in English because they probably didn't see the need to translate in Spanish," Melgarejo said.

"211 has actually helped numerous Spanish speaking fire survivors fill out that online intake form over the phone," said Tara Sullivan-Hanes from Butte-Glenn 211.

Without Alejandra and Bianka Maria says she'd be lost.

"She tells me all the time, every time she sees us she'll hug us and tell us 'thank you so much,'" Norton said.

Maria now lives in Chico she hopes one day she can move back to Paradise.

"It was a beautiful town, hopefully, it can recover its beauty," Gallegos said.

"California Hope" is state-funded.

Tara with 211 says they are partners with California Hope and are looking into maybe fixing that application.

Alejandra and Bianka say they have helped more than 100 people since June.

They say they will continue to help Camp Fire survivors through at least February of next year, that's how long they're funded for this program.

Action News Now also reached out to Tiffany Norwood from the Wildfire Assistance Program for comment on this story, she said regarding this story:

"The Wildfire Assistance Program does not have Spanish-translated materials posted on our website but we do have Spanish-speaking call center agents on our Communications team who are available to provide assistance to Spanish-speakers. In addition, any law firms representing claimants in the Wildfire Assistance Program or the PG&E Bankruptcy litigation provide Spanish-language assistance to Spanish-speakers."

If you would like to connect with "California Hope" of Butte County, CLICK HERE.

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Wednesday has been similar to Tuesday around northern California with comfortable temperatures, but unhealthy levels of smoke in the air. A cold front is approaching the West Coast, and that will move over the region on Thursday.
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