Builder seeks OK on camp for homeless in Nevada County |

Builder seeks OK on camp for homeless in Nevada County

Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer

The clock is ticking for homebuilder Greg Zaller, who wants to get a legally sanctioned homeless camp in Nevada County up and running before the warm weather fades to cold, rain and snow.

With a property owner reportedly already on board, Zaller envisions a 10-person community on the outskirts of Nevada City that would function as a viable transition into his democratically run homeless and abuse recovery rental homes.

"I'm not trying to facilitate homelessness, I want to help these people create a new way of life," Zaller said. "This is a place where you get your feet on the ground. If you aren't trying to move on, you don't belong there."

Zaller has met with Nevada City's government officials several times. They have told him he needs to submit a use permit request for the private property that would address issues such as sanitation, management and liability.

"As much as people might want an area where you have several people camping, neighbors might not want the city to shortcut a deal that doesn't protect their rights according to the land-use designation and zoning we have," said Nevada City Manager David Brennan in a previous interview with The Union.

"We have to protect everyone's rights," Brennan said.

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Brennan estimates that Zaller's sought-for use permit could cost as much as $2,000, which would prompt the city to consider changing its zoning to allow the kind of camp Zaller wants.

"We left the ball in his court to respond to us with the questions we had," Brennan told The Union Thursday. "His next step is to come back to us."

Government-sanctioned homeless camps are nothing new. The closest one to Nevada City is in Placerville, where about 30 people have lived on private property for the last year with an El Dorado County use permit, which is set to expire in November. That camp's operator, Hangtown Haven Inc., wants to move the camp to county-owned land, according to its Facebook page.

"They are a good effort, but they have had some problems," Zaller said. "They do get the sheriff over there more than we would want."

The closest thing Nevada County has to a legal homeless camp is Nevada City's no-camping ordinance. Passed by the town's council in December 2012, the ordinance requires anyone sleeping on public property — namely homeless people — to obtain a permit, requiring them to meet sanitation and waste disposal guidelines, among others.

"The other thing that concerns us is, if it is not managed properly, are there any hazards for fire or sanitation, which can spread to the community if not taken care of?" Brennan said. "We're happy to sit down and talk through those things."

While Zaller said he expects plans to change with government input, he envisions the camp running preliminarily on a three-month trial basis that would be re-evaluated before continuing beyond that.

Zaller also talks about structures, not tents, at the site. He also envisions 10, 6-foot by 6-foot wood structures containing a cot and furniture to keep inhabitants out of the weather.

"They aren't that expensive and are a world better," Zaller said. "And it is a step in a direction toward a room."

The structures, which Zaller calls cozies, would be rented for about a $1 per day to fund the community's infrastructure, such as waste facilities.

"That is an essential part of it, because then we aren't handing it to them," Zaller said. "They are doing it themselves and not having it handed to them. That is huge in these types of things. It has to be up to them to make it succeed by participating."

Learning to pay rent and other responsibilities is a model Zaller has facilitated at two properties in Grass Valley that cater to people transitioning out of homelessness or other troubled situations.

In these drug-free CoLiving homes, residents are responsible for their rent and communal bills and make joint decisions on household expenditures as they learn skills that lead to independence. They also police themselves, weeding out those who can't stay sober or carry their weight.

For those not ready for CoLiving-type living situations, Zaller said a government-approved homeless camp could serve as a viable stepping stone to more permanent accommodations.

"This is a place where they can pull their lives together," Zaller said. "A safe place where they get the support from each other."

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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