Nevada County comes together to count homeless
January 25, 2013
While Travis Shoemaker scoured Nevada City's streets in search of homeless people to survey as part of a biannual count to chronicle the demographic and its needs, his wife, Paije Shoemaker, was at Grass Valley United Methodist Church cutting their hair.
"It's nice we were able to come out and help," said Paije Shoemaker, a stylist at Mane Event Salon in Grass Valley.
The husband and wife were just two of more than 100 people who joined Hospitality House, the county's largest homeless service organization and shelter, Thursday to provide services to homeless people and conduct a "point-in-time" survey to gauge the need for services in western Nevada County.
Hospitality House, in partnership with the county's Continuum of Care Collaborative, organized the count, with the help of Nevada County Health and Human Services, the Salvation Army and Grass Valley Police Department, to name a few.
“If people are aware of homelessness in this county, we are one step closer to a solution.”
— Robert Bebout, a Nevada City homeless resident
Shoemaker's snipping hair was one of a half-dozen services offered at Hospitality House's homeless connect event, where food, music, gift cards, cold-weather gear and even health evaluations were provided free to coax homeless people to complete a survey — the same survey Shoemaker's husband was enticing people to fill out on Nevada City's streets.
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"I just read it in the paper and I thought I had nothing else going on Thursday, so why not go out and volunteer," said Travis Shoemaker, as he hiked Nevada City on an overcast day filled with intermittent drizzles.
The surveys help Hospitality House and the other groups collect demographic information and determine the needs of homeless individuals living in Nevada County, said Cindy Maple, executive director of Hospitality House.
"The surveys give us important information to determine the service needs of our homeless people," Maple said. "It tells if they are veterans, are alone or if they have children. It helps us look at the demographic and what it is that they need."
The surveys also helps area agencies fulfill a federal funding requirement through Department of Housing and Urban Development mandate that all Homeless Continuum of Care Collaborative Councils conduct a biannual count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations during one 24-hour period during the last 10 days in January. Thursday was Hospitality House's third official count, and the fourth overall, since the nonprofit began to organize the surveys in June 2005.
"I wanted to be counted today," said Robert Bebout, a Nevada City homeless resident. "If people are aware of homelessness in this county, we are one step closer to a solution."
Participants are not required to give their full names, but are asked a myriad of questions about their age, ethnicity, health, mental stability, if they have any addictions or ailments, disabilities and where they slept the night prior, among many other questions.
"What's the big deal?" said a man who identified himself as Richard in Nevada City. "They just want to ask some questions and it wasn't hard to answer them. It's a good thing."
While around 100 homeless people walked through the church's doors to participate in the connect event, the total number of homeless people tallied Thursday was not yet tabulated as of press time. Maple expected the final figure to remain pretty consistent with the previous homeless count, estimating that there are at least 500 people living homeless in Nevada County.
One of the most unique services offered at the connect event is Nevada County Superior Court's "Homeless Court" for individuals wanting to address minor warrants and tickets.
"We are dealing with a group of folks who don't have the ability or otherwise shy away from engaging the courts," said Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson, who was at the connect event with public defender David Humphreys and Raymond DeJesus, a deputy district attorney.
At least 17 people took advantage of the free legal services. Maple said.
"That's a great number," Maple said. "It's more than we've ever done."
The on-site legal services were a chance for homeless people to seek legal services and clear up matters with the courts without a fear of being jailed.
"Nobody is getting arrested today," Anderson said. "There is no bailiff here."
While musicians played and people ate freshly cooked meals, only an hour and half into the connect event Thursday, Hospitality House had run out of the more than 100 name tags for volunteers.
"You can't engage better than that," Maple said. "I think today was fabulous. A lot of people said we need to do this more often."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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