‘A better chance’: Education, more housing, protection from discrimination all needed, says homeless mother and advocate | TheUnion.com

‘A better chance’: Education, more housing, protection from discrimination all needed, says homeless mother and advocate

Justyne, at right,, and one of her kids watch as volunteers bring donated furniture into their home in 2017. Tom Kellar, center, worked with the Salvation Army's Booth Center in Grass Valley.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories on homeless people and the agencies, organizations and resources available to assist them in western Nevada County.

Amy Joy Rudolph was raising her children in Penn Valley, working as a nursing assistant at Spring Hill Manor.

Amy Joy Rudolph was originally living in Penn Valley before she became homeless. Rudolph was able to successfully find housing, but she was only able to do so in Marysville.
Submitted photo

But when a traumatic event happened to one of her kids, she had to attend to him, leaving her less available at work while she was also returning to school.

The concoction of events — coupled with her sick grandmother and busy mom, she said — left Rudolph and her children homeless in the spring of 2016.

On food stamps and a family stabilization program, she said her funds were helping her family stay at a hotel temporarily. But in addition to taking care of her children and working, Rudolph now needed to find a place to stay. That’s when her issues compounded because of what she says is Nevada County’s lack of affordable housing.

“Every low-income housing apartment — Olympia Gardens, Nevada Woods Apartments — they have a three-year waiting list,” she said.

During the summer, she said she camped at Rollins Lake, spending her savings on a $1,200 per month campsite.

She knows the potential for problems without a place to call home. She said she watched her friend, Rabecca Mershon, get hooked on drugs due to her homelessness.

“‘I do drugs to stay alert so men won’t hurt me and so I have enough energy to move from one space to the next,” Rudolph said Mershon told her before she was fatally shot in May.

Michael Pocock, 36, faces murder charges in connection with the shooting deaths of Mershon, 25, and David Dominguez, 39.

After a year of couch hopping, Rudolph said she found an affordable housing opportunity with Mercy Housing in Marysville.

Today, Rudolph is enrolled at Sierra College, studying English and journalism.

“I want to make people aware of the situation at hand,” she said, noting homelessness has cycled through her family. She experienced it once before, at the age of 12.

The only reason she was able to find housing, Rudolph said, was because she didn’t let the stigma of her situation bog her down. But she still misses being in Nevada County, and hopes to find a way back.

“I miss being able to live in Penn Valley, where my kids grew up,” she said.


Rudolph said she saw people get laughed at for living in a tent.

“That’s what I found in Nevada County,” she said. “There was little to no compassion when it came to a homeless mother.”

People feel “dirty” and “shameful” for being homeless, she said. As such, Rudolph wants more spaces available for education and de-stigmatization of homelessness, its causes and consequences.

Tom Kellar, who works to house people in his role with Community Beyond Violence, echoed a similar point, wanting to codify that sentiment. He wants protections in place from discrimination by landlords that prevent housing people simply because they have Section 8 vouchers.

“It would mean that a lot more people would probably have a better chance of getting in than they do now,” he said.

Kellar added that county officials and housing authority administrators are “grossly overworked” and that this change could make their lives easier, particularly if landlords are educated on the meaning of the Section 8 voucher system.


Randi Bonilla — whose grief in the death of loved ones led to addiction, which resulted in losing her home to foreclosure — suggests establishing a navigation center where individuals with Section 8 vouchers are helped to get living units.

Tanya Joy, a single mom, lost her home and business after a series of surgeries, which kept her from working to make ends meet. Since obtaining a roof over her head, she’s angry there’s not more support for people experiencing homelessness. She wants to see more affordable housing.

“It’s the number one thing,” Joy said. “That is, the foundation to helping community and society is stability and knowing where you’re going to sleep every night.”

She’s been pondering the concept of Harvest Joy, a tiny homes project she hopes to construct in Nevada County.

Kellar, who has also worked with Hospitality House, the Salvation Army and a housing organization in Alaska, agrees that it comes down to more housing, and more affordable housing options.

“Now practically every nonprofit in town has someone doing my job, which is great, but the problem is the housing stock has not increased,” he said.

A 2018-19 Nevada County Civil Grand Jury report calls for more housing, “particularly modular homes, prefabricated homes, tiny homes, multi-unit apartment complexes and second dwellings.”

Although the type varies, the need remains — and is likely on the rise.

(Tom Kellar of Community Beyond Violence is the husband of The Union Staff Writer Liz Kellar).

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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