Housing organizer hired as Undocufund’s first director
Beatrice Camacho is the new director of Undocufund, an organization that supports undocumented families in Sonoma County during disasters, such as wildfires and the pandemic. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
January 14, 2022
After a week of smoke-filled skies during the 2017 North Bay firestorm, Beatrice Camacho found relief at Santa Rosa’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where the scent of burning copal ― a tree resin used by Indigenous people in Mexico and parts of Central America during sacred ceremonies ― filled her lungs and eased her mind.
Camacho, a lifelong Sonoma County resident, had gone to the church to attend a healing clinic organized by the North Bay Organizing Project about a week after the fires started.
She remembers walking through the building and being stunned by the outpouring of support for community members who were emotionally and physically strained by the wildfires. Aztec dancers, herbalists and massage therapists were there to take people’s minds off their worries, Camacho said.
“I was just feeling overwhelmed by all the people who were there from the Bay Area to provide help for the community,” said Camacho who, at the time, had been evacuated from her own home for a week. “I quickly immersed myself and said, ‘Put me wherever you need me. I’m here to help.’”
More than four years later, Camacho has been selected to lead Undocufund, a disaster relief organization for undocumented residents living in Sonoma County that was created in response to the 2017 fires by three local organizations, including the North Bay Organizing Project.
She started Jan. 6 after four years with North Bay Organizing Project, where she most recently worked as a manager for the nonprofit’s emergency rental assistance program.
As Undocufund’s first director, she’ll oversee the distribution of grants to families who are in need of help but who, because of their legal status, are ineligible for certain types of financial assistance, such as the pandemic-related stimulus payments or aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Camacho said. Connecting those people with other resources will also be part of her job, she added.
Since its inception, Undocufund has doled out nearly 10,700 grants totaling more than $16 million over the course of several disasters, including the 2019 Kincade fire and the coronavirus pandemic, according to Belén Lopez-Grady, the deputy director for the North Bay Organizing Project. The nonprofit serves as the fund’s fiscal sponsor.
Previously, the fund employed a coordinator who would process requests for aid, though that person left in November, Lopez-Grady said. A steering committee made up of members of the North Bay Organizing Project, the Graton Day Labor Center and North Bay Jobs with Justice, the organizations that created the fund, provided direction over how the fund was run and provided additional administrative help.
Camacho said she will also use the director role to raise the voices of Sonoma County’s undocumented community with local governments.
“I see it as a way to be able to do more work around organizing with the undocumented community and seeing what they need,” Camacho said. “I’m just excited to dive right into that.”
Camacho’s work with the nonprofit began in 2018 when she started working as a tenant organizer. She put together “know your rights” workshops for renters, helped establish a tenant counseling hotline and worked with Legal Aid of Sonoma County to create the Sonoma County Tenants Union, a coalition of renters who aim to improve housing conditions and policies locally, Camacho said.
The work was especially gratifying for Camacho, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who remembers acting as an interpreter for her parents during yearly Section 8 housing inspections, when case workers would verify their income and make sure they were in good standing to receive the housing assistance, Camacho said.
“I kind of came full circle because growing up in Section 8 housing for the majority of my high school and youth years,” Camacho said. “When I started working for North Bay Organizing Project as a tenant organizer, I was finding myself at an office with a seat at the table, and (myself and tenants) were talking about rental inspection programs.”
Christy Lubin, the director of the Graton Day Labor Center and a member of Undocufund’s steering committee, said Camacho’s hiring and new focus on advocacy will help broaden Undocufund’s impact in the community beyond the financial assistance it provides. Most recently, that help has gone to families experiencing hardships during the coronavirus pandemic, Lubin said.
“That is more of the future vision of Undocufund, looking at how we can advocate for some of those policies for (undocumented) workers in times of need,” Lubin said.
Lopez-Grady, who has worked with Camacho for about three years and currently sits on the Undocufund steering committee, said Camacho’s hard work ethic is among the traits she is most well-known for within the nonprofit.
That strength paired with Camacho’s experience as the nonprofit’s emergency rental assistance manager and with underserved communities should set her up for success, Lopez-Grady said.
“It’s a complete honor to work with an individual that is so passionate and so dedicated to supporting our most vulnerable residents,” Lopez-Grady said. “She is an organizer at heart and when there’s a crisis, she’s the person you call because you know the job will get done and it will get done in a compassionate way.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or email@example.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.