TRUCKEE — Amid a series of concerns, the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District board this week will revisit a request by Nevada City-based Divine Spark to utilize a kitchen and multipurpose room to serve free meals to Truckee’s homeless and in-need individuals.
At its Dec. 13 meeting, the TDRPD board approved the nonprofit organization the use of Truckee’s Community Arts Center’s kitchen, at 10046 Church St., on Wednesdays for a six-month period for its meal program.
Yet within days of the decision, the approval was put on hold.
“After the meeting, there was concern from the public and the town of Truckee on this approval,” wrote Steve Randall, district general manager, in a memo to board members, which is enclosed in Thursday’s meeting packet. “I put the approval on hold until the board has a chance to review new information received and to give the public a chance to provide comment to the board.”
Comments provided to the district by Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham stated patrons of a similar service in Nevada City came early and lingered around, left a mess in the neighborhood and attracted homeless from outside the area.
Similar feedback was received from Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency Director Jeffrey Brown and Nevada City Manager David Brennan, after TDRPD Recreation Superintendent Dan O’Gorman made calls to Nevada City.
In 2010, Divine Spark founder and director Thomas Streicher terminated the organization’s lease of the Veterans Hall on Pine Street in Nevada City, where it housed a five-day feeding program, after a local restaurant agreed to feed the homeless daily, according to report in The Union newspaper.
The agreement soon fell through, and the city would not reinstate Divine Spark’s lease.
“Divine Spark never disclosed there were issues in Nevada City,” TDRPD board member Kevin Murphy, the lone director who voted against Divine Spark’s request on Dec. 13, told the Sierra Sun on Saturday. “I still feel we were a bit mislead.”
On Monday, Streicher confirmed that Nevada City patrons arrived early and loitered afterward, but said it was done to ensure they got a meal and due to need and the comfort the meal site provided.
“I plan to address all these concerns by a plan of action that includes detailed and specific supervision and regulation, such as communicating to people utilizing our services to obey a no-loitering regulation,” he said in an email to the Sun.
“I don’t expect there will be much different of an impact than what is already established at the same building on Tuesday afternoons...”
Meal services that currently exist in Truckee include: Project MANA food distribution from 3 to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at the Community Arts Center; hot meal servings by Food and Resource Support Center from noon to 2 p.m. on Thursdays at 10111 E St. through Assumption Catholic Church and other community organizations; and Stone Soup Community Soup Night from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sundays from Jan. 27 to March 24 at the Community Arts Center.
“We’re not trying to create problems,” Streicher said. “We’re trying to solve problems.”
Is there a need?
In 2011, a total of 60 homeless people were counted in the Tahoe-Truckee region, with approximately 40 in Placer County and 20 in Nevada County, said Glen Harelson, program manager for Health and Human Services for Nevada and Placer counties, in a phone interview Saturday.
According to Project MANA’s website, the nonprofit hunger-relief organization serves more than 26,000 individuals in the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee communities annually.
“We are proposing to serve food in Truckee because there is a need, just as there is a need in almost all cities across the USA to feed the poor and hungry,” Streicher said.
“I think that’s a great idea,” said Ed Candler, a Truckee resident and a broker at First Reality of Tahoe Truckee, located next to the Community Arts Center. “It’s a good way to help a lot of people who cannot help themselves at the moment. It is centrally located where most people in Truckee know.”
Streicher said Divine Spark anticipates feeding 120 people each Wednesday at the Community Arts Center, if approved, based on the number of people using Project MANA’s food distribution program, Food and Resource Support Center and those who have contacted him or whom he has contacted.
The Food and Resource Support Center attracts 12 to 15 people a week, with lower numbers occurring during the winter, Harelson said.
“I am surprised to learn that there are enough homeless people in Truckee to warrant opening a food kitchen for them and how much that would help on a one-day per week basis,” said Raine Howe, executive director of Arts For the Schools, from a personal standpoint.
As for Arts For the Schools, located at the Community Arts Center, Howe said the nonprofit has no position on the matter and would not take a position on any use of the building, as long as its affairs are not “disrupt(ed).”
Twin Ridges Home Study Charter School is also located in the Community Arts Center.
The reason Murphy said he voted against Divine Spark’s proposal was due to unanswered questions, including whether other venues had been looked at to house the meal service program.
“I’m in favor of helping the homeless, just not in favor of this model,” he said.
Murphy also said that since TDRPD is a special district, the issue of feeding the homeless may be better suited at the town level.
“We’re not civil civic, so it’s a little out of our charter,” he said.
Randall addressed that point in his memo to the board.
“I spoke with our legal counsel, and he stated that we have discretion in approving uses of our facilities as long as we are fair and consistent,” Randall wrote. “The district has discretion on approval when there are secondary impacts such as the neighborhood issue.”
Randall did not return numerous phone calls and an email seeking further comment on this story.
Margaret Moran is a reporter for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of The Union based in Truckee.