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Collaborative effort continues to house homeless people from Sugarloaf Mountain

On June 8, Nevada County — in collaboration with Nevada City and a host of nonprofit agencies — launched an ambitious pilot project, moving more than a dozen homeless people off Sugarloaf Mountain and into temporary housing at the Northern Queen Inn.

They were asked to stay at the hotel for 30 days and work with case managers from Nevada County’s Homeless Outreach and Medical Engagement (HOME) team to identify goals for themselves — the primary one to be permanent housing. Mike Dent, director of Housing and Child Support Services for Nevada County, stressed the importance of the wrap-around services, with the project participants deciding for themselves what they need most.

At their first meeting, the participants hashed out a common code of conduct that included mandates such as: Show up and bring something; look people in the eye; respect people where they’re at; keep camp and surrounding area clean; no open fires; and ask, don’t just take.

At the next meeting, Nevada County Housing Resource Manager Brendan Phillips asked them to think about how they would adapt if they moved into permanent housing.

“Where do you want to be?” asked Joe Naake, supervising outreach case manager with Hospitality House. “We want to build on success. It’s not about blame, it’s about clearing barriers. What would it look like, if you don’t go back to your camp?”

Naake cautions those in attendance against sabotaging themselves out of fear, adding, ”Use this limited time to help us help you.”

Several in attendance expressed some frustration at the slow pace of progress. In response, Naake said, the pace was stepped up in the collaborative effort to help the group meet its goals.

Matthew Revels — who has been on the streets for nine years — said he welcomes the opportunity to get help, a sentiment echoed by others over the last few weeks.

Revels, who was recently fired from his job, said his biggest want right now is a new job, along with housing and a new phone. He wants to engage, he said, adding that if he could achieve some of those goals, he would be happy.

Patricia Hughes had been on Sugarloaf a year and a half, with her husband and their dog.

She admitted to having been “a little skeptical” about the pilot program.

“Once this is over, it’s like, where are we going?” she said. “I don’t like moving from place to place.”

For Hughes, the biggest drawback to trying to get into permanent housing is having to abide by others’ rules.

“I’m a very individual person, I don’t like being told what to do,” she said.

Hughes already has seen tangible benefits, however. She is getting reconnected with medical service, for one. And despite her reservations, she said, she would be open to housing.

“I love being out in the woods,” she said. “But I’m tired of being on the streets.”

SETTING UP FOR SUCCESS

Sierra Roots has had volunteers at the Northern Queen every night to engage with the community members, said Executive Director Paul Cogley.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “What has been really wonderful, is that they had their own code of conduct and have been respectful. We have not had any incidents.”

With eight days left as of today, the pressure is on. Naake said his team has been working intensively to develop case plans for the 17 people involved in the program. Those plans differ for each case, with assessments being done to get Supplemental Security Income benefits or medical treatment for some, addiction treatment for at least two people, and some bridge housing for two others. A housing specialist is working with the county to place some people who have some income into permanent housing as well.

“We have some promising leads,” Naake said. “I have high hopes we’ll have some successes.”

Naake’s team has been meeting with county staff several times a week via Zoom, he said.

“It’s been interesting to see all the partners get involved, trying to focus on a group of individuals who have historically haven’t been served or who have been resistant to help,” he said.

According to Dent, some of the people might be transitioning into a different funding stream and might remain at the hotel.

Of the original group, Naake said 10 so far are on a track where they will not go back to the woods.

“Some folks are still resistant,” he said. “If even part of these plans come to fruition, we will exceed our expectations. No one thought 30 days would be enough, to take 15 people straight from camping to housing.”

Even though the group formed bonds while on Sugarloaf, Cogley noted, “They are all on their own individual journeys. Some are ready to make changes in their lives and maybe found some opportunities to take first steps, while maybe some are not quite that ready,”

This week, Naake said, the team is focusing on discharge planning, about “nailing things down” with time running short.

The hope is that some of those who have so far resisted making concrete plans will see the positives if housing outweighing the negatives.

“We’ll see,” Naake said. “We are trying to explore all the avenues. We’ve laid the groundwork to really set some folks up for success.”

Both Naake and Dent pointed to one very tangible, immediate benefit — the reduction of fire danger on Sugarloaf Mountain. With a dozen people off the property, Nevada City is moving forward with plans for a massive cleanup starting this morning.

“We took a high fire danger zone and are cleaning it out,” Naake said. “There’s one less fire risk out there.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lizk@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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