Group seeks OK to feed homeless at Nevada City Vets Hall |

Group seeks OK to feed homeless at Nevada City Vets Hall

Janice O'Brien, center, dishes out food to people at a recent homeless feeding operation in Nevada City.
Christopher Rosacker/ |

A coalition of nonprofits plans to petition the Nevada City Council to use the Nevada City Veterans Hall on Pine Street to feed homeless people several days a week — something that hasn’t been done since neighbors’ complaints led to the cessation of another nonprofit’s similar operation there in 2011.

“A lot of the guys who show up here are really starving,” said Pauli Halstead, a chef and author who has helped feed the homeless once a week in Nevada City.

“It’s eye-opening,” he said.

Sierra Roots, a relatively new Nevada City nonprofit, envisions using the Veterans Hall to feed homeless people “maybe three times a week,” said Janice O’Brien, a Sierra Roots member.

“First of all, we have to do our groundwork,” she said.

O’Brien, a former nun who raised her grandchildren when her own son and daughter-in-law battled homelessness, has often spoken at Nevada City Council meeting on issues involving homelessness.

She also attends the Continuum of Care meetings, where community stakeholders discuss solutions to Nevada County’s homeless problems.

In addition to feeding the homeless people of Nevada City, O’Brien said she is interested in managing the Veterans Hall as a cold-weather shelter.

“I just can’t stand that these people are out in the weather like that,” she said.

Sierra Roots isn’t doing it alone. The organization is teaming up with other homeless support agencies, such as the Salvation Army and the Food Bank of Nevada County.

“I like to work with all good people doing good things because that is the only way we are going to get anything done,” O’Brien said.

Another partner is Divine Spark, the nonprofit that once operated a five-day feeding program out of the Veterans Hall until its former leader and founder, Thomas Streicher, failed to receive city council approval to increase the operation to a seven-day feeding center.

Without approval for the Veterans Hall, Streicher turned to a Nevada City restaurant, Amigos & Co., which agreed to feed homeless individuals daily. Streicher then gave his two-week notice to terminate his lease of the Veterans Hall with Nevada City.

However, within days of Streicher’s intent to vacate notice, the restaurant backed out of the deal, and the city would not reinstate Divine Spark’s lease.

Much of Streicher’s failure to garner approval for expansion and subsequent denial for re-entry can be attributed to his turbulent, no-compromises demeanor with the elected officials.

“(W)hen problems started happening and we got no assistance whatsoever from Divine Spark to try to solve them, it clearly wasn’t working,” said current Mayor Sally Harris in 2012. “It was terrible for everyone.”

Streicher died in March in a vehicle accident on his way back to Nevada City from a charitable trip to a South Dakota.

In his wake, Shirley Kinghorn has stepped in to keep Divine Spark running and has made notable progress in building bridges in Nevada City during her short tenure at the helm.

She has continued Divine Spark’s once-a-week feeding at the Veterans Hall and succeeded in keeping its voucher program running.

“Sierra Roots wants to be proactive,” O’Brien said. “Instead of all of us working on our own silos, we should be working together.”

Another factor in the cessation of feeding operations were reports of recipients hanging around before and after the meals, discarding trash and even drinking — things O’Brien said she would not put up with.

“All I ask is that they behave,” O’Brien said. “I expect them to clean up afterwards.”

O’Brien and Halstead anticipate their proposal being on the agenda of the Oct. 23 meeting of the Nevada City Council.

“There are so many homeless people who live in Nevada City, and ultimately, we want to be people who solve problems,” Halstead said.

“It’s important to solve the problem.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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