Elected officials share thoughts on homeless issue in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Elected officials share thoughts on homeless issue in Nevada County

The Union asked all members of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, as well as all members of the Grass Valley and Nevada City city councils, to answer four questions on homelessness. The answers of those who responded appear below:

The questions:

1) Is homelessness an issue in Nevada County? Why or why not?

2) What is your elected body doing about homelessness?

3) Is the local homelessness issue better or worse than it was five years ago?

4) What are the next steps, if any, we should take as a community to address homelessness?

The answers:

From the Nevada County Board of Supervisors

1) Homelessness will always be a part of our society. Nevada County works very hard to prevent homelessness and to help those who are interested in assistance.

The Nevada County 2015 Point-in-Time Homeless Count was 274 people.

The Point–in-Time Count uses criteria determined by the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. Although considered unreliable by critics, because it only records the number of homeless individual that can be located during a specific 24 hour period, it remains the only consistent way to measure the incidence of homelessness across communities.

Of those 274 individuals, 120 (48%) had a serious mental disorder, 104 (38%) had a substance abuse disorder, 22 people were veterans, and 109 were chronically homeless.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA 2003) estimates 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs. According to SAMHSA, 20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.

2) The County works in a myriad ways to prevent and address homelessness through direct funding, partnerships and contract services in three County departments: Housing, Behavioral Health and Social Services. The County averages about $8.5 million annually across these departments directly to individuals who are homeless or at risk of being homeless; to homeless non-profit programs and to other non-profit organizations.

For example: Direct County funding to contracted non-profits providing services to homeless individuals for 2015/2016 was $936,388. This included Hospitality House, Winter’s Haven, Tahoe Safe Alliance, Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition, The Salvation Army, Nevada County Housing Development Corporation, and the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. Over the last three fiscal years, the County has provided over $390,000 to Hospitality House for food services, and $108,000 to the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition for temporary housing and crisis intervention services for their clients.

Other County funding for services to homeless or at risk of homeless individuals for 2015/2016 was $7,522,565. This included CalWORKs, Behavioral Health Case Management, Turning Point Providence Center case management and supported housing, the Sutter-Nevada Regional Housing Authority (Section 8 housing vouchers), General Assistance, HOME services, and Gold Country Community Services.

The Tahoe-Truckee region has limited outreach or support services for homeless people. The primary group working on the issue is United for Action – a consortium of faith based groups, social service agencies, and the Counties. They offer a motel voucher program through rotating on-call churches. Also, they support a twice a week meal and shower program.

The Behavioral Health Department provides rehabilitation services to homeless mentally ill persons, and for those at-risk people from becoming homeless. Rehabilitation mental health services includes help to pay their bills, obtain outpatient and residential mental health and substance abuse treatment, pay rent, and settle neighbor disputes. Currently, the Department has 144 mentally ill individuals living in permanent and transitional supported housing.

The Department of Social Services, which includes Child Support Services and the Veterans Services Office, also provides programs and services to help veterans, foster kids, and families find housing, pay bills, obtain loans, grants, transportation, employment and other assistance to keep them in their homes or to obtain low-cost housing. The Veterans Services Division provides over 3,000 services to veterans annually, facilitating access to health care, education, and pension/compensation.

The Nevada County Social Services Eligibility Division provides Medi-Cal to 20,345 persons, CalFresh benefits to 7,783 persons, and General Assistance benefits/loans to 70-100. The Eligibility Division also performs community outreach to over a dozen outstations each month, including Hospitality House, Sierra Roots’ Lunch for the Homeless, Penn Valley Food Bank, Penn Valley Partner’s Family Resource Center, North San Juan Food Bank, North San Juan Family Resource Center, Common Goals, Miner’s Family Health Center, Progress House, FREED, Community Recovery Resources, Gold Country Community Services (Senior Center), the Nevada County Jail, and the Nevada County Probation Department.

The CalWORKs Division provides benefits and employment services to 1,451 low income citizens.

3) Since 2009, the homeless count has ranged between 245-348. It appears that our homeless numbers were roughly flat over the last six years, but declined from 2013-2015. People go in and out of homelessness, it is not static. Of our 274 homeless persons, 109 are chronically homeless, less than half of the total.

4) Public Health recently conducted a Community Health Survey (which included over 500 responses from county residents), and adequate housing was identified as one of the top three health issues in our community. Via the Community Health Improvement Plan process, the Department will convene meetings with multiple partners from the community to begin talking about how to systematically address these issues.

Addressing the homeless problem in Nevada County is best accomplished via collaboration among the County, cities, non-profits, businesses, and faith-based groups. No one entity can ‘solve’ the problem. While Nevada County works on many levels to support and encourage such collaboration, there is always more we can do. We will continue to work with our community partners to find ways to improve service delivery and effectiveness of our housing, social services and behavioral health programs.

From District 2 Supervisor Ed Scofield

1) Homelessness can be a blight on our community. It contributes to vagrancy, vandalism, unsanitary conditions, theft and occasionally even assaults on innocent citizens and visitors. While we promote tourism, and encourage companies to relocate to our area, the visible impact of the homeless can be a very negative impression of our cities, towns, and even our recreational areas such as our rivers.

2) Recent articles give the impression that the County and Cities do little to address the homeless situation. Nothing could be further from the facts. The County is very involved through its Behavioral Health program and Social Services and Housing. Through these programs, the County is highly supportive of the nonprofits and our schools. Dealing with homelessness and the issues surrounding this condition can be very costly. In this budget year, the County anticipates spending approximately $8.5 Million on the aforementioned programs. These figures do not include law enforcement estimates.

3) Homelessness seems to be more visible and more concentrated in certain areas, such as the two cities. What many people may not realize is that more than 150 folks are housed through County programs. Without these programs, the homeless count would most likely be significantly higher.

4) I quote the summary put together by County personnel and agree with the response. “Addressing the homeless problem in Nevada County is best accomplished via collaboration among the County, cities, non-profits, businesses, and faith-based groups. No one entity can ‘solve’ the problem. While Nevada County works on many levels to support and encourage such collaboration, there is always more we can do. We will continue to work with our community partners to find ways to improve service delivery and effectiveness of our housing, social services and behavioral health programs.”

At the Town Hall meeting, I was surprised at how defensive so many people were of their own opinions. I too clung to my own views on the issue. The best thing I can do is to be open minded to suggestions and recommendations that are presented to us. At the same time all suggestions and ideas need to be vetted and studied before taking dramatic actions. At the Town Hall, the word was “start now.” I’d say we’ve already started, but there’s much more work to be done. Build on what we have that’s working and beware of quick actions that might cause more problems than are solved.

The Mayors of our two western side cities, and myself will be meeting to discuss the homeless issue. Although this is an informal meeting, with no action to be taken, it is a small step between our three government bodies to begin collaborating on homelessness. There also is discussion of the two Cities, the Town of Truckee and the County doing a joint meeting specifically to discuss this issue.

From Grass Valley Mayor Jason Fouyer, on behalf of the council

1) Homelessness is an issue in our community. Nevada County is not immune to the homelessness struggles that affect the State of California, or for that matter, the nation as whole. In the City of Grass Valley we can see the homeless on the streets, in our parks, and in our neighborhoods. We feel the effects on our police, fire, and hear the concern from our citizens. Since we have a small and close nit community, the homeless issues touch us on a more personal level. We do not have the ability to disconnect like the large metropolitan areas due to the size of their population. We see and feel the emotional effect that homeless can have on our neighbors.

2) Homelessness is not a new problem for the City of Grass Valley. This area of concern has been something that the City Council has been working on, collaboratively with our community partners, for many years. Below is a list of projects that the City Council has helped facilitate:

• Grass Valley Council actively assisted in the locating and development of the only year-round homeless shelter, Hospitality House and making it easier for quality service providers to open in the City.

• Assisted with Habitat for Humanity projects including assisting with $250,000 in infrastructure costs and permitting.

• Expedited the entire review process for Community Recovery Resources (CoRR) Center for Hope project.

• The City has provided direct financial assistance with Redevelopment funds or supported the operating entities in their funding requests to obtain or maintain the affordability of the housing, and its rehabilitation projects associated with those units.

• The City developed a process to streamline housing opportunities related to transitional and supportive housing, and a process to allow homeless shelters.

• To assist with housing affordability and homeless issues the City has created more flexibility in the Development Code to allow mixed-use projects, reduced regulatory barriers through expedited reviews, updated and maintained the density bonus provisions, allowing second units by right, implemented provisions to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

• The City has approved approximately 1,000 government assisted housing units dedicated for low and very-low income residents.

• The City has worked with the Housing Authority and County as needed on section 8 housing and other housing opportunities offered by those entities.

• The City has provide $750,000 in grant funds to upgrade the Love building to serve meals and other service programs for lower income senior residents.

• The City has spent over one million dollars in the renovation of lower income residences over the past several years.

• The City has applied for grants, received and used HOME funds and Redevelopment funds to operate its First Time Home Buyer Program.

• City has used grants and Redevelopment funds to operate its Housing Rehabilitation Program.

The following is a list of efforts the Grass Valley Police Department has performed by turning enforcement into solutions by linking people with services:

• Instituted bi-weekly meetings with Nevada County Mental Health Department staff regarding homeless individuals in need of mental health services.

• Utilized the Court, Mental Health and Social Services to eliminate or reduce the number of calls for service related to the top ten homeless chronic offenders.

• Have built relationships with the chronic offenders in order to change their perception of law enforcement and demonstrate a willingness to help them.

• Provided 8 hours of Peace Officer Standards and Training certified Crisis Intervention Training to all police officers to enhance skills in identifying and assisting individuals with mental illness.

• Worked with Nevada County Probation to obtain a grant allowing a mental health worker to ride along with our Strategic Response Team Officer to conduct mental health evaluations in the field. Grant will also allow for additional Crisis Intervention Training for all police officers.

• Reduced the amount of litter and trash caused at many homeless encampments by working with property owners, Waste Management, Grass Valley Public Works and Grass Valley Police College Interns to assist in cleanup of encampments.

• Work with business owners/management in order to decrease the amount of subjects loitering, soliciting, shoplifting, and trespassing.

• Created a community services program with the courts to provide land clean up hours and other community activities versus fines or jail for offenders.

• Have partnered with Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital regarding mental health issues and understanding our community’s needs as we develop a community strategic plan to provide better mental health services.

3) The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Our downtown merchants, with help from a variety of stakeholders, have seen a reduction in homelessness issues. If you ask the residences and businesses in the Brunswick Basin, they have seen an increase in issues. We have seen a reduction of homeless camps within the City limits but this has forced the camps into the County’s jurisdiction. The tooth paste effect pushes the negative issues around from neighborhood to neighborhood as efforts and priorities change. There is a greater awareness of homelessness today than five years ago. This creates more chatter on problems and solutions but the overall community efforts have not changed.

4) Homelessness is a community wide issue that will take a unified approach by governmental agencies, homeless organizations, and community stakeholders. The first steps would be for all of the above mentioned groups to make a commitment to collectively work together on a unified approach to help reduce the homeless. Secondly to clearly identify each groups strengths and identify resources that each organization can offer to help the homeless or those who are at risk of homelessness (such as services, material goods, or expertise). Contact local service providers, congregations, or non-profits to match your strengths with community needs. Lastly educate our caring and giving community on ways in which there efforts, money, and time are the most effective in contributing to resolving the homeless issues.

From Nevada City Mayor Jennifer Ray

The homelessness problem in Nevada County is significantly worse than it was 5 years ago.

Nevada City does not have the space nor the financial resources to absorb this problem. Three of the council members, including myself attended the seminar Dr. Marbut conducted. Several of his ideas made complete sense to me:

1. Don’t feed the homeless without a more comprehensive approach.

This is enabling and it is counterproductive for the homeless and bad for merchants and residents of NC. Just feeding them with no accountability does nothing to address the drug and alcohol addiction often associated with homelessness.

2. Identify the homeless population. How many are drug and alcohol dependent? How many have concomitant mental illness? How many are victims of domestic violence?

As a licensed Clinical Psychologist, I can tell you that you must treat the dependence and addiction prior to mental health issues such as schizophrenia and bipolar.

The homeless problem is much worse than it used to be and the answer is not to create a culture of dependence.

From Nevada City Councilwoman Terri Andersen

1) Absolutely. Any time we have people living in our community without a roof over their heads and facing the constant concern for their health, well being and security, then certainly that is a problem. The other side of the coin is of course resident’s concerns over public intoxication, theft and the threat of campfires getting out of control. Everyone is impacted in some way by the problem of homelessness.

2) As a small city with limited resources we rely mainly on the county and their social services. However in developing our camping ordinance a couple of years ago we worked with our police to coordinate with local support groups like Divine Spark, Sierra Roots and Hospitality House to provide outreach to local homeless individuals. We continue to work with our police and make available sites for weekly meals provided by those groups. Our officers take the opportunity to use these events to check in with many homeless individuals and supply them with information about resources and support.

3) Like many people I talk to I’m not clear on the actual number of homeless and whether there are more or less than five years ago. I’m also unclear on many of the details; how many people are from Nevada City vs those who are from elsewhere or are just passing through? What is the percentage of people with substance abuse problems, victims of domestic violence, veterans with PTSD? I very much agree with Dr. Marbut’s suggestions that all agencies should have access to the same set of data on our homeless population and that data will drive the conversation about how best to move forward with the issue.

4) Next step? I’m intrigued by many of the ideas Dr. Marbut outlined and the success other cities and counties have had with the issue. I agree that collaboration among all the affected agencies and the organizations striving to help the homeless is absolutely essential. I’d like to know more about the idea of a “system wide portal”. I know that the county already has in place many programs and resources that have helped numerous individuals; I don’t think the public realizes they have successfully provided services for and housed about 150 people throughout the county. Perhaps a next step would be a gathering of members from the county and cities’ staff and electeds, and leaders from each organization dedicated to helping the homeless with an agenda geared toward full collaboration.

From Nevada City Councilwoman Evans Phelps

We all recognize that homelessness is an issue that the whole community has to tackle. The Hospitality House is the best solution we have in our county. It creates a safety net for people to get back on their feet, find jobs, and locate permanent housing. If we had the funds, we should have several more shelters like Hospitality House that offer help, but require a commitment and effort from the homeless who use the facility.

There are good citizens in Nevada City who feed the homeless in different locations every day. We have a pleasant and inviting downtown which allows them to find niches to hang around in. We also have hidden places to camp within walking distance. But we are also a small city with a very tight financial budget and very limited resources. We need money to make a difference. Myself, I try and be friendly and say hi to everyone. That is a first step, to recognize that this person walking with a backpack up towards some hidden camping area could be any one of us.

We start by being sympathetic. Next we need to locate funds to help set up community resources to help educate, and find housing and jobs for those who need it. It is a huge task and will take the entire community to come together to make a difference.

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