Word spread around Nevada City Friday about the death of one of the town’s most well-known and beloved homeless residents, William “Bill” Peach, who died at his city-sanctioned campsite Thursday.
“Our community has lost a very fine soul this week,” said Reinette Senum, a former Nevada City Councilwoman and a member of the city’s stainability team.
Peach, 48, was found Thursday morning outside his campsite near Hirschman’s Pond, off Highway 49, where Senum said he had lived for more than a decade.
“We aren’t looking at this as anything suspicious,” said Sgt. Rich Fevinger, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office’s chief deputy coroner. “There is no trauma or signs of foul play.”
Peach reportedly had lived on his own since his early teens and had spent the last decade or more living near the pond.
“It’s sad. He contributed to our community and was a part of the community and had been a part of our community for years,” said Officer Shane Franssen of the Nevada City Police Department. “He didn’t sit around and panhandle. He contributed to our society.”
Franssen had worked with Peach as part of an effort to get Nevada City’s homeless population under control by implementing a no-camping-in-public ordinance. The ordinance allowed for sanctioned exemptions to homeless people who were not criminals and who demonstrated a responsibility for their campsites.
Not only was Peach the first homeless person to pass the city’s standards to garner a permit, he also helped craft the framework for the ordinance and worked with the city to bring about its implementation.
“He was definitely a huge part of our process, getting the ordinance passed, as well as getting the program started and initiated,” Franssen said.
Peach had appeared on television news reports and in print articles as example of the no-camping ordinance.
“He was very proud of that,” said Fran Gallagher, one of Peach’s friends. “I was very proud of him for doing that — for sticking up for himself and the other homeless.”
Peach told The Union in November that his support of the camping measure was to help ensure that people who live homeless in Nevada City do so in a responsible manner that doesn’t reflect negatively on other homeless residents.
“He was a bridge to helping the public better understand the plight of the homeless, as well as dispel myths and assumptions around the issue,” Senum said. “Bill was a touchstone for our work with the homeless, and we will be amiss without him. He was also a very good friend who always had a hug available.”
Beyond his contributions to the camping ordinance, Peach worked odd jobs around town, often helping at various bars and restaurants and, more recently, helping with landscaping, Franssen said.
“He helped everybody and they gave him odd jobs to feed him,” Gallagher said. “(He) worked for me at home and (in the) yard, but what he really liked was when I cooked for him.”
Peach even served as a house-sitter for Gallagher, she said.
“He was very trustworthy,” she said.
In addition to his affability and warm demeanor, Gallagher said Peach was an avid reader.
“Reading was his passion,” she said. “He loved to read and loved to play games on his laptop. He was a very bright man. He was into science fiction. He read everything.”
Peach was survived by at least one brother, said multiple sources.
“I’m glad he came into my life, and I got to know him for who he really was,” Gallagher said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
“(Bill Peach) was a bridge to helping the public better understand the plight of the homeless, as well as dispel myths and assumptions around the issue.”
— Reinette Senum