There was a minority of vehement opposition at the last Nevada City Council meeting regarding the continuing use of the Nevada City Veteran’s Memorial Building as a cold weather shelter. The city council passed a resolution three years ago to provide a cold weather shelter at the veterans’ building. Councilman Duane Strawser pointed out that the resolution is still in place and didn’t see a need to change it.
In spite of rude comments and heckling by a few veterans’ building neighbors, Sierra Roots, a newly formed nonprofit, presented its plan to use trained volunteers to monitor the cold weather shelter during freezing weather. Their outline provided that all would be supervised with respect to the neighbors’ concerns. No one else present proposed an alternative plan.
These were some of the suggestions from those opposing the shelter: 1. Get a bus and take “them” (the homeless) somewhere outside the city limits. 2. Find another building in town. 3. Have the local churches provide the shelter. 4. Let’s (someone else) come up with a comprehensive plan. No one else but Sierra Roots presented a plan.
Sierra Roots has subsequently asked if the city-owned Seaman’s Lodge in Pioneer Park could be used as an alternative site. The answer was no, that children play in the park and there have been problems there in the past. No children will be playing in the park from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 a.m. on a freezing night.
It was also mentioned that the city is aware that some transient individuals may have felony criminal records, and it would be difficult to separate them from our local homeless population.
Sierra Roots’ response to these concerns is that we know there are different groups in town. We have specifically identified our long-term homeless who have lived here over the years.
We have also seen that there are transients we do not know. We saw some of them this summer. These people are a police issue to handle. If they are felons with outstanding warrants, they should be arrested. If any of our locals have outstanding felony warrants, they would have been arrested by now. The police department knows our locals quite well.
We were also disturbed by what we saw happening in Nevada City this summer by out-of-town transients. We do not want to see that mess again. We would like to see our loitering ordinance strictly enforced.
We understand Grass Valley has successfully addressed its loitering and pan-handling problem. Perhaps Nevada City needs to hire a street monitor to walk around and make sure people don’t sit on the sidewalks for hours with their camping gear and trash on the ground. This behavior is not helpful for the Nevada City merchants.
As part of the Sierra Roots’ program, we educate on how to be mindful of the community at large. We teach skills such as how to help with our meal program and clean up afterward with no loud and vulgar language and no fighting or arguing. We work on these issues every week and are already seeing improvements in social skills and behavior.
Every week we interface with those who need assistance, connecting them to needed services such as alcohol and drug rehabilitation and medical help.
Sierra Roots does not want to be associated with problems that have happened in the past. We are a new organization with a great vision and a responsible volunteer program.
We want to see that things improve for everyone — the residents of Nevada City, the business community, the police department and the homeless. All of this is going to take teamwork and trust by everyone.
We are thoroughly committed to having a successful cold weather shelter. Many other cities already have one in place. We will make sure our Sierra Roots’ participants are away from the shelter after 7:30 a.m. and do not return to hang out at other times. If they do, they will be suspended from the program. We are going to thoroughly brief everyone as to what the rules are.
We welcome help and ideas from neighbors and the community as long as they are kind and constructive, not negative comments based on the past.
We feel we are taking part of the burden off the city and police department by alleviating some of the suffering we see on the street.
Our program does not cost the city anything. It is a gift.
Pauli Halstead is a Sierra Roots board member.