Advocate wants homeless shelter at old fire station |

Advocate wants homeless shelter at old fire station

Six years ago, Claire Grondona became an unlikely advocate for the homeless after she took in a family of seven that had been evicted from its home on San Juan Ridge.

And nearly every winter since, the 58-year-old former police officer and process server finds herself taking care of those who, for whatever reason, are temporarily unable of taking care of themselves.

Grondona, who volunteers at the Woman of Worth thrift store when she’s not helping someone find a warm bed or hot meal, doesn’t consider herself an advocate for the homeless, rather someone who’s willing to take on the touchy issue.

“I just think I’m the only one who wants to talk about it,” Grondona said Wednesday at the thrift store near the Nevada City SPD Market. “If people are hungry, yes, I’ll do it all.”

Lately, Grondona and a few of her friends have bandied about the idea of using the now-vacant 49er Fire District station at the corner of Highway 49 and North Bloomfield Road as a temporary winter shelter for those who don’t have one.

Though Grondona said the 3,500-square-foot building would be ideal for use as a seasonal shelter, people who have used the fire station and those responsible for devising ways of curbing Nevada County’s homeless problem aren’t biting on the idea – yet.

Tim Fike, chief of Nevada County Consolidated and 49er’s interim chief, said he hasn’t heard of any such use of the fire hall. It might not be prudent, he said.

“It would require extensive remodeling,” said Fike, who noted the fire station would need sewer and water hookups. There are no showers or bedrooms, either, which prompted the fire district’s move to new quarters this summer.

The fire department’s building was listed for sale at $460,000, but was recently taken off the market until a new 49er board of directors is seated.

“I don’t know if it’s feasible for someone to purchase the building and then spend all kinds of money to make it habitable,” Fike said.

Jim Carney, the county’s director of housing and community services, said he hadn’t heard of the idea either. He said an assessment of the county’s homeless population would have to be completed before any building would be purchased to provide a seasonal shelter.

The county already has an 11-unit facility for families temporarily displaced by homelessness. “The real need is to provide permanent, affordable housing,” Carney said.

Grondona doesn’t expect much help from the county “because I don’t have the expertise behind me, but it’s our responsibility to take care of our people,” she said. She recently has helped a half dozen homeless people by paying for meals and stays at the Holiday Lodge.

Donnie Batcheller, pastor of the Lord’s Meetin’ House, a church in Nevada City, said many of his congregants could use the help, “but it depends on local politicians and the will to pull it off. It’s a wonderful thought and something that’s sorely needed.”

Both Grondona and Batcheller realize that without some serious pull behind them, their idea may never become reality.

“It’s just a dream at this point,” Batcheller said.

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