Are We Doing Enough?

This piece about homelessness in our community outlines some of the gaps in services that our community is facing.  We are posting it here to our website because we know that this issue is paramount to the health and safety of our community.

Are We Doing Enough?

by Pauli Halstead

Last winter, during some of the worst storms on record, Hospitality House accepted a number of additional guests at an increased expense to their facility.

Salvation Army also operated a shelter on some of the coldest nights. Sierra Roots has operated a warming shelter using Seaman’s Lodge or The Veteran’s Building in Nevada City.

This year Salvation Army said they would not continue operating a warming shelter. Hospitality House said they would not take in additional guests this year without funding support.

Last November Hospitality House was granted $37,206 in funding from Grass Valley to bridge the resource gap in emergency shelter services during the winter. This month Nevada County also granted $37,207 as its contribution to Hospitality House for this purpose. These funds will provide for 15 additional beds per night from Nov. 15, 2017 until April 15, 2018.

Some of the guidelines for being accepted as a winter guest at Hospitality House are:

Obtain a referral from 211, Connecting Point.

Check in at 4 p.m., check out at 7:15 a.m.

Pass a breathalyzer test.

Nevada County Housing Resources Manager Brendan Phillips worked with local churches to open a nomadic shelter that will take in “one” family per night on a rotating basis. This plan was to be operational in mid-January.

On Aug. 8, during the last Homeless Process Improvement Group meeting conducted by Heidi Hall and Michael Heggarty, I proposed the need for a new and more comprehensive memorandum of understanding between Social Services and the two cities, which included a building dedicated for a warming shelter. There was no communication from county or city officials that Hospitality House was to be the “only” funded warming shelter in Nevada County. With 371 unsheltered people in the county, this leaves many more people outside on these cold and rainy nights.

On Nov. 6, Sierra Roots signed an MOU with Nevada City with the following criteria for opening:

City Manager has the authority to open a warming shelter under the following weather criteria conditions:

Temperature is below 30 degrees

Temperature is below 34 degrees with 1 inch of rain in 24-hour period

Temperature is below 34 degrees with snow on the ground

Or, three or more days of consecutive rain

Janice O’Brien, president of Sierra Roots, has further clarified consecutive to mean, “three days of rain are three solid days, non-stop consistent rain, with temperatures falling.”

All this is a moot point, however, as both The Vets Building and Seaman’s Lodge posted calendars are almost totally booked for events during January and February resulting in very limited availability.

How did this oversight happen? Now, with many days of consecutive rain, there is no alternative plan in place.

While there is appreciation in the community that the county and the city of Grass Valley have so generously funded Hospitality House, for the 15 additional beds, there are many remaining people without shelter who are now soaking wet. These are people who cannot meet the entry criteria of Hospitality House, which understandably does not allow pets.

What is needed is an additional building in Nevada City or Grass Valley that would be available from Nov.15- April 15, and only when the extreme weather conditions would warrant opening.

Most of the local homeless population are living in and around Grass Valley. One warming shelter is not enough to cover the need.

Pauli Halstead lives in Nevada City and has worked on homelessness issues in our community for several years.