By Marcy Stamper
The new local disaster case manager for fire survivors has already worked with about 20 people and households — many who lost everything in the fire — and said she is encouraged about meeting people’s winter housing needs.
“So far, I’m really optimistic with housing,” said Hayley Riach, who has been handling cases for the past month out of Room One in Twisp. “At first it looked really daunting, but we’re really close to solving it,” with only a couple of clients — out of the 20 who’ve contacted her — still in need.
Riach said many of those who’ve opened cases had already found temporary shelter through the winter, and that some people have called to offer housing. Nevertheless, with an estimated 36 houses in the Methow Valley destroyed in the fire and another 100 lost in the lower valley and near Pateros, many more people may still need housing.
Riach acknowledged that many of the situations are “not ideal,” with people doubled up or having left the area to take advantage of housing with family. Most of the people she is working with were uninsured or underinsured, she said.
Riach is one of four disaster case managers in the county who will assist people with referrals to government agencies and volunteers and connect them with a range of resources. In addition to a background in customer service, Riach worked as a wildland firefighter for nine years.
Riach is based at Room One; the other case managers, who are just starting work this week, are based in Okanogan and in Brewster/Pateros, where there are two specialists.
Much of what the case managers are doing at this stage is connecting people with agencies that can make loans or provide other types of assistance. They also have vouchers to help with immediate necessities such as food, gas, moving expenses, clean-up, and first- and last-month’s rent, according to Adrianne Moore, interim executive director at Room One.
Riach will work closely with Methow Valley Long-Term Recovery. She can also connect people with the Red Cross, which continues to assist with such things as security deposits and moving expenses.
In the future, the case managers will present individual situations to a committee on unmet needs that will disburse donations from funds that have been established for fire survivors. Riach said these unmet needs could include long-term housing, wells and utilities. The groups managing the donations are still developing criteria for allocating these funds, she said.
Okanogan County Community Action Council is supervising all the case managers, whose salaries have been covered by a donation from the Community Foundation of North Central Washington for one year. People can work with the case manager at the location that is most convenient for them.
Riach is at Room One Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (and until 5 p.m. on Wednesdays); appointments are recommended. Call 997-2050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment or more information.