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Larry's Story: Fire, Cancer, and Resilience

The amazing journey of one of CHAT's newest residents, Larry Halstead is documented in our latest CHAT Newsletter. Larry is a well-known activist and writer among the Camp Fire survivor community but not everyone knows his history and the additional challenges he's had to face. We've excerpted some of the story here but you can read the whole thing on our Newsletter page:

"At first, the internet went out. Then the power. Then the cell phone service.

Something was wrong at Larry Halstead’s home in Magalia. He went outside and walked down the Skyway to the Magalia Reservoir, where he came upon a chaotic scene. First responders had blocked the Skyway at the dam. Helicopters were swooping down to scoop up buckets of water. A Sherriff’s Deputy told Larry there was a fire in Paradise. She advised him to shelter in place. It seemed the fire wasn’t heading for Magalia. Larry went home, told his family, and fell asleep. Suddenly, he heard the cries,“We can see

flames!”Sure enough, there was a wall of fire, with some flames taller than the trees.

Larry, his disabled wife, three children, and some of their pets evacuated. They had to leave behind the animals they couldn’t find. Larry has tears in his eyes when he explains how they had to leave without his two favorite cats and how the house they were renting burned to the ground. The trauma is still there. At 3 a.m. the day after the Camp

Fire broke out, they escaped by driving north toward Butte Meadows.

But the losses didn’t stop there. The marriage had been shaky. After the fire, Larry’s wife left him, with the youngest of their 11 children (3 they had together, 8 adopted) and most of their money; she moved to Chicago. Just like that, Larry was without his home and possessions. He didn’t even have a phone or his glasses. What followed was a long story of scrambling to find a place to stay, but nothing lasted long. When he ran out of options, he stayed at Chico’s City Plaza for 10 days, then spent 10 months camping in Bidwell Park.

In 2016, Larry had been rocked by a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Attempts were made to treat it without surgery. Finally, in 2017, surgery took place. Says Larry, “It didn’t go well–it was a failed surgery.” Homelessness interrupted his treatment. He was in his 60s. His health deteriorated and he lost a lot of weight. Fortunately, Larry met Jesica Giannola, who was working as a Disaster Case Manager on a temporary contract with Youth for Change. She worked to find Larry a home. Meanwhile, the City of Chico started making sweeps of encampments of unhoused people in Bidwell Park and other city property.

Jesica found Larry six months of emergency housing in an RV in Magalia. By the time that ran out, Jesica was working as a Housing Support Coordinator for CHAT. Not only that, but her work was with CHAT’s CHAMP program, which was set up specifically to help Camp Fire Survivors. Larry’s luck was about to change. “Jesica has been an amazing angel all along,”says Larry.“I told her I would always be her client.”

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