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.

Where Can People Live?

This article from the LA Times asks some important questions: “California needs to vastly increase its supply of homes, but it is becoming ever more risky to build them in the wildland-urban interface, or in low-lying coastal areas, or on floodplains, or next to freeways. So where can people live?”

California’s rural communities are facing the same plight when it comes to affordable housing and housing stock.  It is time to get creative and use all the resources at our fingertips.  In order to have a thriving, diverse economy we must make certain we have workforce housing.  We can have affordable housing in our community without sacrificing our small-town charm.

Homelessness

Most Americans are just one paycheck away from homelessness, according to an article published by Marketwatch in January 2016. Citing a Princeton College Research Survey, “Approximately 63% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair.” Many families are teetering on the edge.

According to Sacramento Steps Forward, the agency that coordinates local efforts to aid those without homes in Sacramento, homelessness in our neighboring city increased by 30 percent from 2015 to 2017.

We are seeing similar increases in our own community.  As the director of Nevada County’s Health & Human Services Agency, Michael Heggarty, pointed out in a May 2017 op-ed published in The Union newspaper, “Since 2009 the ‘Point in Time Homeless Count’ has averaged about 300 individuals per year. The 2017 count identified 371 people (though the actual number is likely higher), 15 percent of which were children.”

While the problem is increasing, efforts to combat homelessness are also increasing.  Coordinated efforts between our local governments, our law enforcement offices, and the many nonprofit and volunteer-run organizations have been ramping up.  

In 2016, our local community shelter for the homeless, Hospitality House, placed more than 100 people in permanent housing.  This was after a devastating budget cut stripping more than $300,000 from the organization.  With a budget that is largely funded by individual donors and community members, Hospitality House, like so many of our homelessness advocacy organizations, relies on the community for backing.

As with many issues facing society, we are better able to offer sustainable solutions when efforts are supported and coordinated.

In Nevada County, we have several agencies and organizations working to help people in need of housing in our community.

Homelessness is often a symptom of other issues, or a combination of many factors impacting a family or individual seeking housing.  In order to combat the crisis, we must also work in tandem, combatting some of the other issues that may lead to a person or family becoming homeless.

Kayla grew up in Nevada County with a difficult childhood and a homelife that promoted fear. Growing up in an abusive home, Kayla turned to drugs as a teenager for relief and then as a culture of escape. She came to rely on her fellow drug-users as a makeshift family and eventually as a means of making money as she became a dealer.  In and out of rehab, with failed attempts at sobriety, Kayla found Hospitality House and their support services.  

Hospitality House worked with Kayla and her social worker in order to empower her with coordinated services to help her with treatment and social support, as well as housing.  Hospitality House gave her job training while also providing her with a support system while she spent four months living at the shelter in transition. Today, Kayla has two years of sobriety, is living in permanent housing, and has held a stable job in the foodservice sector for over a year.

We are facing a serious housing shortage in California and housing prices have become increasingly unaffordable.  Many people who suffer with medical complications, mental illness, or addiction are often more impacted by California’s housing crisis and need a whole-systems approach to housing services.

Nevada County is equipped with the talent and the resources to combat the housing crisis both from the ground up and from the top down.  We can help people and families who have fallen on hard times and need rapid rehousing resources.  We can help those in need who are burdened by compacted issues such as poverty, domestic violence, illness or addiction.

We cannot allow the daunting task of combatting homelessness fall on any one city, agency, or organization. Nor can we ask a few key community partners to disproportionately shoulder the costs of services.  We cannot approach the issue of homelessness as something precipitated by a single cause.

In order to continue effective support we must continue to back coordinated efforts and support those already working. We must see homelessness as a symptom of greater issues in our community.  We must see those combatting the greater issues as key players in combatting homelessness and we must ensure that those organizations are supported.

As Nevada County’s District 3 Supervisor, I will continue to support coordinated efforts for sustainable solutions to house-lessness.  I will support community organizations already doing the work on the ground.  I will support infrastructure to allow community organizations to have access to shared information and resources.  When we work together, we work more efficiently and everyone benefits.