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Marshall Fire recovery program clears backlog, but says acute needs continue

The Boulder County Recovery Navigator program began in August and has allocated a little over $6 million in rebuilding grants so far.

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — The Boulder County Recovery Navigator program has finally cleared its backlog of calls seven months after it opened, and more than 14 months after the fire devastated swaths of Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County.

The program connects fire survivors to resources, and participation is required for survivors to be eligible for a portion of more than $20 million in donated rebuilding funds. So far, the program has doled out more than $6 million to 262 applicants. 

"We know people are overwhelmed and we want people to be able to access the money and we want people to be able to access that money quickly," said Boulder County Assistant Recovery Manager Katie Arrington. 

But the program got off to a slow start, with fire survivors complaining they couldn't get an appointment, a call back or access to the critical rebuilding funds. 

Arrington blamed the delay on short staffing. "We opened with two recovery navigators and there were hundreds of people who wanted the services and needed the services," she said. Today the program has the equivalent of 10 full-time navigators to assist.

"It is not easy. Disasters are devastating," Arrington said. "I know there were some struggles. I know there was some frustration with the backlog. The backlog’s been cleared."

She said the program also underestimated how many people would need additional assistance. "We thought that maybe people would just need to be navigated to resources and not need as much of the handholding," she said. "But I think that hand-holding piece has really been the most important thing of the navigators."

Arrington said inflation and the remaining struggle of the COVID-19 pandemic combined to make rebuilding difficult. "That may be one too many things for people to handle on their own," she said. 

She said the recovery navigation program will remain active for months, if not years to come. So far, she estimates only about 40% of people who lost homes have applied for or received a building permit -- meaning many more still could use assistance. 

To try to help, Arrington said recovery navigators will reach out to survivors as soon as their building permits go through. Appointments with recovery navigators can also be made via an online screening form.

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