Despite storms, no warming shelter will open this week in Nevada County
March 13, 2018
Volunteers at Trinity Episcopal Church in Nevada City dished up plates of hot, nourishing food Tuesday evening to those who braved the rain.
But the brief respite wasn't enough to dry the clothes of their guests, most of whom are homeless.
"We're wet and we're cold," said Brent Williams, who said he was just arrested Monday for camping. "They keep telling me to leave, leave, leave. Things have got to change."
Sonya, who did not provide her last name, is a longtime camper in Nevada City. She has a truck, but worries for those who have to brave possible hail or snow.
“We don’t have a way in the county to operate shelters. There’s no funding connected to that, it’s not the mission of any of our departments to operate the shelter.”
— Michael Heggarty, Nevada County director of Health and Human Services
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"There's all these people out in the elements," she said, noting that during the last storm, temperatures dipped into the low 20s one night when there was no warming shelter. "They've been out in the rain all day."
The wet weather isn't predicted to clear any time soon.
Despite the dismal forecast, nonprofit organization Sierra Roots said it would not open a warming shelter this week.
According to its memorandum of understanding with Nevada City, the conditions for the warming shelter opening are: if rainfall has occurred for three or more consecutive days, when the temperature is below 34 degrees or 1 inch of rainfall has occurred within a 24-hour period.
But Sierra Roots President Janice O'Brien said Tuesday her organization was not available to run the warming shelter because they have a two-day retreat that they could not cancel.
'Can only do what we can'
"We can't open and we won't open," O'Brien said. "We have planned a two-day retreat this week to restructure our organization and move forward with plans for our village (for the chronically homeless.) … It's not that we don't want to be open, we care very much — that's why we want to get the (supportive community) village going."
O'Brien said Sierra Roots has been struggling with the lack of availability of city facilities, but pledged to open the warming shelter the next time the weather gets bad.
"We can only do what we can do," she said.
O'Brien said she was not open to loaning out Sierra Roots' sleeping bags and pads, saying the organization needs to keep track of its gear and keep it clean.
"Sierra Roots has been doing this for seven years and no one has been worried about these people until now," she said. "It's amazing to me, (that) all of a sudden people are worried. We've been the only ones putting something together."
County willing to partner
Nevada County Director of Health and Human Services Michael Heggarty said that while the county is prepared to help with some staff and money, it will not take the lead on providing a warming shelter.
"With notice we can try to provide volunteers from our staff," he said. "But our help is auxiliary, not primary. We don't have a way in the county to operate shelters. There's no funding connected to that, it's not the mission of any of our departments to operate the shelter."
Heggarty noted that the last time the warming shelter was opened, the county had staff there, and rented a U-Haul to transport bedding. He added that the county also helped pay for 15 overflow beds at Hospitality House from Dec. 15 through April 15.
According to Heggarty, the county is willing to partner with another organization, but it would need to be in a safe space with trained volunteers.
"It's a bad situation and we don't have an answer," he said. "We have some limited services we can offer … (but) we don't see ourselves as the lead in making this happen."
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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