Down and Out: Nevada County homeless describe their situations |

Down and Out: Nevada County homeless describe their situations

A western Nevada County homeless man enters his encampment Tuesday afternoon October 18. The man, who wished to remain anonymous, says he has permission to be on the property that he stays on in return for keeping the area clean and safe.
Elias Funez/ |

The majority of the state of California welcomed the rain over the past week. But for those who don’t have a roof over their heads at night, such as many who live in the woods surrounding Grass Valley and Nevada City, the onset of winter storms can create a problem.

“We weren’t ready for the rain this year because we got kicked out,” Kelly Bridges, who is recently homeless, said Monday morning after using some of the services at Nevada City’s Streicher House.

Bridges, who is experiencing her first bout with homelessness since she and her spouse separated less than a year ago, said she would give anything to go back to work. She has been diagnosed with carpal tunnel and thoracic outlet syndrome, however. And while she had already completed a year of schooling to become a physical therapist, those aspirations are currently on hold because she says she currently isn’t in a state to turn in homework, let alone keep the homework dry.

“This is definitely my first rodeo,” Bridges said of being homeless.

Bridges hopes to buy an RV or a trailer with money she expects to receive from a disability settlement in about a month.

“I’m not going to be living like this my entire life,” she said.

Other homeless locals have experienced their own unfortunate chain of events that has landed them where they are.

Mike and Mikayla Bewsee have been without a permanent home for the past eight years, and currently camp on BLM land in Nevada County. Their homelessness started when Mike’s truck broke down.

“He lost trucks, chainsaws, all of his work tools,” Mikayla said.

“By the time we get a paycheck, we have to repay what was stolen,” she said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”

Even after being homeless for so long, though, the Bewsees still have pride and respect for themselves. They believe in keeping their encampments clean and have devoted a lot of time in cleaning up after other homeless people that may leave debris at their camps.

The Bewsees said sometimes it’s not the homeless folks’ fault for leaving a mess if they’re kicked out of their camps unexpectedly.

“How am I supposed to keep building these bad-ass camps and then just have to tear them down?” Mike Bewsee said.

“It’s tough, but I will,” he added, saying that having dignity and respect for where they live, even if it’s just a tent encampment, is important for their mental health.

One man, who wished to remain anonymous, said he first became homeless after he got a DUI and lost the place he was living in after spending six weeks in jail.

The man, who claims he has permission from the property owner to live on his undisclosed location outside Nevada City, says his biggest problem every day is finding the $6 to pay for a green propane tank that he uses to help heat his domicile.

While he says he also has permission to have a fire, he knows that they are frowned upon — but says the situation is a “Catch-22.”

“They want you to camp out there at least three miles, but when you’re out there that far, you almost have to have a fire to scare off the critters,” said the man, who expects a visit to his camp by bears at least twice a week.

His tent, nestled on a hillside and surrounded by land that he has cleared of downed brush and excess fire fuel, is cozy and filled with two queen-sized beds. A car battery is connected to a power inverter for his flat screen TV.

“I want to bring a generator up here, but I’m afraid people will complain,” he said.

He says he’s tried to stay at Hospitality House, but that things are too structured there and that many who do stay there suffer from mental illnesses, which makes staying there uncomfortable.

A man who gave only his first name, Derrick, has been living on the streets for about a year. He said he appreciates the services offered by the Streicher House and wants to see more people getting back to work, even if it is just volunteering.

Derrick still remains hopeful, but realizes homelessness might become a permanent state, saying that he asks himself, “How long can I keep telling myself that it’s just a stroke of bad luck?”

What Derrick fears, he said, is the lack of stability.

“We’re never safe,” he said. “Most of us are pretty fearless, but we’re afraid of getting locked up for just trying to live.”

To contact Staff Writer Elias Funez, email or call (530) 477-4230.

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