Tucked in a Grass Valley neighborhood typical of the Gold Rush-era town is a house, seemingly no different than any other on the block, which serves as a refuge from the past for the six women who live there.
They are of different ages, races and backgrounds, but all contribute in various ways and democratically manage their home, including its finances.
“I was nervous at first because I didn’t know these people,” said Mary, a 21-year-old recovering victim of human trafficking and prostitution, whose real name is being withheld at her request.
“I’ve lived in many living situations,” said Mary, who has resided in the home twice since the program’s inception a year ago. “I’ve never felt more welcome.”
CoLiving Network is a fledgling nonprofit that facilitates mutually beneficial household learning communities for residents struggling with addiction, homelessness, abuse and mental illness. Most members have a past trauma, said Barbara Franklin, the unpaid program manager.
Often, those pasts would otherwise prohibit the women from obtaining housing because of credit issues, debts, legal or other factors, Franklin said.
But with CoLiving, they gain the skills for sustainable and stable living, said Greg Zaller, who organizes the nonprofit.
“This concept is a little out of the box,” Zaller said. “We can take anybody in and give them a chance and are able to give them the support to generate the income.”
Zaller owns CoLiving’s first home, where the six women live, and arranged to rent the second home by paying the deposit and first month’s rent. The tenants of the new mixed-gender residence, who are just settling in, will pay Zaller back for his up-front investment just as the tenants of the women’s home pay him rent every month.
“It’s a little bit too good to be true,” said Ed, 29, who was recently homeless and just moved into the mixed-gender residence. “But after a while, it settles in. This is a great opportunity for those that want to help themselves.”
There are a few strict rules, such as no drugs or alcohol. And, of course, bills must be paid.
“If you want to keep that spot, there are rules and regulations,” Mary said. “If someone wants to be here, they will do the work.”
Beyond that, residents democratically agree on the other rules and choose new residents when rooms become available. They also decide when someone isn’t carrying her weight.
“There is no one shielding them from consequences,” Zaller said.
“It’s a hand up, not a handout.”
Such responsibility and accountability empowers residents to lead an independent lifestyle in a safe atmosphere, Zaller said.
At the women’s home, the residents recently decided to impose an overnight fee for guests to dissuade a “revolving door” and help cover the increased cost of utilities, Mary said, noting that grandchildren are exempted.
Each resident also functions in a key role. There is a treasurer, a secretary, comptroller, maintenance person, neighbor relations person and a facilitator, Franklin and Zaller said.
“We’re giving them the ability to help each other,” Zaller said.
When one person fails, they all feel the pain, Franklin said. Zaller describes the residential roles as memberships rather than as tenants or clients.
“It naturally gravitates toward a family once trust is established,” Franklin said.
The stable environment has allowed Mary to get a job at a retail store. She is studying to become a social worker at Sierra College.
“I actually want to work,” Mary said.
“The more I put myself out there, I become this better person … My life, my story is an example of people giving to me, and I want to do the same to others.”
At the new mixed-gender residence not far from the Stagecoach Motel, several men who have already moved in wasted no time tidying up their new yard, discovering a cement slab for a back patio where once overgrown blackberry vines and sticks tangled together.
“It feels good to have an opportunity to put something into your home,” Ed said.
And that’s part of the incentive that Zaller hopes will entice other landlords to consider the model. Not only does it provide for continuous occupancy, he said, but site improvements seem to be intrinsic.
“We’re hoping to use these houses as models so that other landlords can examine how it works,” said Franklin.
Zaller and Franklin aren’t just looking for landlords; they also welcome volunteers to help mentor; landscape; coordinate public relations; or contribute in other ways, such as financially.
Franklin’s guidance is currently unfunded, Zaller said, and as her workload increases, her stewardship needs to be compensated for.
“I help them learn the ropes on house roles,” she said.
“Some of it is basic life skills, depending on their background.”
Franklin also does credit checks for residents, facilitates assessments and helps with sobriety efforts, mental health and therapy.
“This place is great,” said Jane, another guest at the women’s house.
“It gives safety and security. It can give you another start.”
If you are interested in knowing more, come to the open houses at 116 Berryman St. and 10924 Gold Hill Drive from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, July 27, or go to www.colivingnetwork.org. Phone 530-615-1014 to offer assistance.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.