For Californians, wildfires are a fact of life.
If you haven’t already heard, at present there are over 1,400 wildfires burning in Northern California.
These fires began a little over a week ago as a result of a freak lightening storm.
A news article from The Associated Press, New evacuations ordered as California battles blazes, mentioned that yesterday morning about 200 people were being ordered to leave the area of Big Sur. The article went on to say that the fire in that area had continued to grow and that it was only about 3 percent contained.
An article from Salem-News.com, Fires Flare as Smoke Spreads From California Wildfires to Oregon and Nevada, stated,
"The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports that over 1,450 fires in California have scorched more than 416,200 acres as of early this morning.
Red Bluff, California, Reno, Nevada and Medford, Oregon, all reported lowered visibility due to the smoke being spread by a south-southwest steering flow on Monday. The smoke will continue to cause poor air quality and poor breathing conditions, even for healthy adults, through the week."
On the SLO Tribune website, a breaking news article, Excessive smoke leads to health advisory in SLO County, said,
"The increased amounts of smoke and ash are expected to impact the county through at least Wednesday. Coastal fog has made the smoky conditions worse since it keeps the smoke lower to the ground, according to the district.
Residents are urged to reduce outdoor activities and exercise. It’s especially recommended for the elderly, and those with respiratory and heart conditions and allergies."
In SLO County last night, there were over 2000 men, women and children who did not have the option of having a sheltered place to sleep. They were forced to sleep out in the open; in a tent; in their vehicles; or anywhere else they could find.
They are part of SLO County’s homeless population.
Because of a lack of available shelter beds, these folks were exposed to extremely unhealthy air conditions. Some of them already have health issues. Breathing the smoke from the fires can only serve to worsen those conditions.
It isn’t that they chose to sleep out of doors. With a total of 2,408 persons who have been positively identified as being homeless in SLO County, and only about 175 available shelter beds countywide, you can see that these folks were not left with any other viable option.
I know one homeless senior citizen who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). Although he is taking prescribed medications for the condition, he nonetheless has problems breathing normally. He doesn’t have access to shelter. He lives in his vehicle – which probably did little to protect him from the unhealthy air quality.
I can’t imagine that the smoke from the wildfires was any good for the lungs of the county’s homeless children either. Quite a number of these children – the majority of them, in fact – were subjected to breathing that smoke and ash because they, and their parents, did not have access to shelter.
I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t give any proof positive opinion as to what type long term effects breathing the smoke and ash will have on any of the county’s homeless. But, I don’t think it will be beneficial in the long run. On the contrary, if I were to make an educated guess, I would say that it will have some ill effects on these folks somewhere down the line – all of which might have been preventable if we, as a community, had been more willing to fund the providing of an adequate number of shelter beds for our area’s homeless.
It’s easy to say something to the effect that the homeless should just get off of their lazy behinds and make something of themselves; that they should take responsibility for their lives; or that they should just go out and get jobs and stop "sponging" off of the rest of us.
The reality however, is that there are quite a number of our area’s homeless who do have employment. But, they’re not earning a livable wage. Additionally, the number of affordable, low-income housing units isn’t large enough to accommodate the numbers of persons who need it.
California doesn’t have the ability to prevent wildfires. No one does. Wildfires are "an act of God." They are going to happen whether we want them to or not.
In a similar fashion, homelessness isn’t something which can be altogether prevented either. Despite our best efforts, it too, is going to occur whether we want it to or not.
What we do have the power to do, however, is create the potential for our homeless to find a way back into the mainstream of the community. We have the ability to open up our minds and hearts to sufferings of others. We have the capacity to let compassion motivate us to reach out a helping hand.
Last night, in SLO County, there was ash and smoke in the air – and some of our fellow human beings were not be able to escape breathing it.
We have an obligation to do the right thing.