California storm: Homeless on island confront climate change – Los Angeles Times

by | Jan 8, 2023 | Climate Change

SACRAMENTO —  The raft to Bannon Island does not inspire confidence. But Dyrone Woods climbed aboard the piece of crumbling Styrofoam secured to the remains of a wood pallet anyway. An atmospheric river was headed straight for the capital, prompting dire warnings about potentially deadly flooding and damaging high winds. Yet the raft, about the size of a refrigerator door, was his only way back to the tent where he has lived for five years, to his pit bull Bra Bra and his meager possessions.“It’s rough right now,” Woods said as a hawk circled overhead, maybe eyeing mysterious bubbles on the surface of the water, indicating a creature underneath. “It’s cold. The weather’s changed. And I guess it gets old.”We have written many times about the colliding emergencies of homelessness and extreme weather exacerbated by climate change. Downtown Sacramento, seen from a homeless encampment on Bannon Island.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times) In the fall, as temperatures soared to unrelenting triple digits, we looked at how heat waves were making life harder for people living in tents on our sidewalks. And over the summer, we wrote about how disasters, such as wildfires, may one day force us into tough conversations about where and how we should live. But few places in California demonstrate this better than Bannon Island, a sad spit of land between the Sacramento River and an old freeway that’s at once a few miles and a world away from the state Capitol.For decades, even as politicians have talked about solving homelessness and building affordable housing, Bannon Island has been allowed to grow into a massive encampment, full of humans, dogs, tents, tarps, bicycles and other detritus both necessary and unnecessary for survival. One man even lives in an underground bunker; he dug his home, which is big enough for guests and a drum set, with a shovel. Part of what makes Bannon Island notable is that it’s large and, akin to the much smaller mounds of land in the Santa Clara and Ventura rivers, is really only an island during storms. Antonio Rico takes a break while moving belongings from a flooded homeless encampment on Bannon Island.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times) AdvertisementWhen it starts pouring, like it did last week — a situation experts fear will become more frequent as climate change leads California to extreme drought and extreme deluges — government officials release water from an upstream dam. That protects the levees and prevents flooding in the residential and business neighborhoods that fill the flat lands of Sacramento. But as it does in many parts of California where unhoused people live along riverbeds, creeks and washes, it can lead to dangerous situations downstream.One of those water releases, which sent what a state official described as 10,000 basketballs’ worth of water tumbling down the Sacramento River, happened a few days before New Year’s Eve, when a massive, wind-driven storm hit. That water deluged Bannon Island, leaving behind a wasteland of sole-grabbing mud under the barren oaks and cottonwoods, their trunks half-submerged in the murky channel. By Wednesday, with another storm rolling in, the encampment had already been cut off from the mainland. That left about 60 residents weighing whether to accept government offers of shelter, move to highe …

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