Denied service: Divine Spark founder blames Nevada City officials for refusal of homeless meal program in Truckee
January 30, 2013
A leader of a Nevada-City based homeless service provider has accused local government officials of making false statements that led to the cancelation of plans to open a feeding center in Truckee.
"I would have liked them to have been supportive of us," said Thomas Streicher, co-founder and director of Divine Spark.
Nevada City Manager David Brennan, Police Chief Jim Wickham and Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency Director Jeffrey Brown each delivered negative testimony to the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District about Divine Spark's previous efforts to feed the Nevada City homeless residents at the Veterans Hall on Pine Street.
Streicher said those officials' comments helped sway the Recreation and Park's board of directors to rescind its Dec. 13 decision to grant him use of Truckee's Community Arts Center's kitchen, at 10046 Church St., on Wednesdays for a six-month period to feed homeless and in-need individuals.
"That really shook them up," Streicher said. "It is one of the reasons I didn't get it."
The largest concern park board members said they had at the meeting was regarding the location of a feeding center. The Community Arts Center is home to Twin Ridges Home Study Charter School and Arts For the Schools, and board members said they didn't like the idea of children and Divine Spark's clientele possibly intermingling.
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Brennan, Brown and Wickham's comments indicated that patrons of a Divine Spark's warm meal program came early and lingered around, left a mess in the Nevada City neighborhood and attracted homeless from outside the area, according to information submitted to the park board.
"Everything I told them was based on fact that I knew since I have been here," Brennan said of his solicited opinion. "I didn't embellish on anything."
Streicher took particular exception to Brennan's paraphrased statements, which were submitted to the park board based on a phone call to him from Steve Randall, the park district's general manager, Brennan said.
"I don't think his comments were very accurate," Streicher said. "He doesn't realize we have a new program we've been doing for two years."
Divine Spark was founded to provide resources to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Later, the organization began feeding western Nevada County homeless people every Sunday at the Madelyn Helling Library.
Over five years, Streicher grew the operation to a five-day program, which he then moved to the space leased from the city at the Nevada City Veterans Hall to feed between 30 to 60 homeless people at a cost of about $3,000 per month, according to Streicher.
After failing to receive Nevada City Council approval to expand to a seven-day feeding model, Streicher gave two-week notice in April 2011 to terminate the lease at the Veterans Hall, when Amigos & Co. agreed to feed homeless individuals daily at its since-abandoned restaurant location on the corner of Broad and Nevada streets.
However, the restaurant backed out of the deal within days and the city would not reinstate Divine Spark's lease, leaving the homeless feeding center without a home. Instead, Streicher said he enlisted the help of local restaurants to provide vouchers to homeless people, which Divine Spark has purchased since.
"Divine Spark never disclosed there were issues in Nevada City," Kevin Murphy, the lone Truckee-Donner park board director who voted against Divine Spark's request on Dec. 13, told the Sierra Sun prior to the meeting. "I still feel we were a bit misled."
After Brennan was hired in June 2011, he said he worked with Streicher to let him use the Veterans Hall again in a limited capacity, as long as Streicher tempered neighbor's concerns. Those neighbors submitted a petition asking that the feeding operation be located elsewhere, Brennan noted.
"The neighbors came unglued," Brennan said. "It isn't like we are totally opposed to him and his program, but we have to consider everybody's rights and considerations."
Streicher continues to use the Veterans Hall for his two-day annual holiday celebration around Christmas.
"We haven't had any problems with that," Brennan said.
With the park board's decision, Streicher said he will push for a voucher program in Truckee.
"We're trying to get established and work toward a full-time model where people get vouchers like we do here," Streicher said. "We're going to keep on going. You have got to hang in there."
Margaret Moran, a staff writer at the Sierra Sun, The Union's sister publication in Truckee, contributed to this article. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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