Nevada City postpones decision on winter warming shelter |

Nevada City postpones decision on winter warming shelter

A proposed memorandum of understanding between Nevada City and nonprofit group Sierra Roots for the operation of a warming shelter was tabled by the city council Wednesday for two weeks, until its next meeting on Sept. 26.

Nevada City has had an agreement with Sierra Roots to use city facilities — the Veteran’s Memorial Building or Seaman’s Lodge — as a warming shelter for the homeless when weather conditions have reached a certain criteria. Those criteria are temperatures below 30 degrees; temperatures below 34 degrees with 1 inch rain in a 24-hour period; temperature below 34 degrees with snow on the ground; or three or more consecutive days of rain.

Last winter, there were some issues that caused concern, both with Sierra Roots’ ability to open the shelter when needed, and also from neighbors of the facilities.

Both the Veteran’s Memorial Building and Seaman’s Lodge were almost totally booked for events during January and February.

In late February, the shelter did not open during a snowstorm. Sierra Roots President Janice O’Brien said she was caught off guard by the storm and had not been able to reach anyone at the city or county until it was too late. The Seaman’s Lodge did open three subsequent nights.

A mid-March storm again saw no shelter opened, after O’Brien’s organization went on a two-day retreat. One did open four days later, for two consecutive nights. In the interim, some people who needed immediate shelter were placed in hotel rooms.

This year, Nevada City has debated how to handle the renewal of its agreement with Sierra Roots, with city officials saying the county and Grass Valley needed to pitch in. Neighbors of the Veteran’s Memorial Building have been vocal in their opposition, complaining of loitering, urinating, defecating and visible drug use.

In order to alleviate those concerns, city staff added some new requirements into its proposed agreement with Sierra Roots. The nonprofit would need to have at least one male and one female volunteer for every 12 guests, and one volunteer dedicated strictly to security. That security would extend to one hour before the shelter opens to one hour after it closes. Smoke and pet breaks would be allowed only until 10 p.m. with constant supervision, and no in and out privileges. There will be zero tolerance for drug use and vandalism.

To solve the issue of rental unavailability, renters who are scheduled for either facility may be asked to cancel their event to accommodate a warming shelter, City Manager Catrina Olson said in her staff report.

O’Brien was on hand during Wednesday’s city council meeting, as were Nevada County Director of Housing & Child Support Services Mike Dent and Housing Resource Manager Brendan Phillips.

O’Brien told the council members that last year she was overburdened with 55 guests at a time and this year, she will cap the shelter at 36. She added she would soon be conducting training for additional volunteers.

A Request for Proposals issued last month by Nevada County offering $10,000 to $15,000 to operate the shelter got no takers. But according to Dent, Nevada County is currently in negotiations with Sierra Roots to provide financial and staff support for the warming shelter. The county is also negotiating a contract for additional support from the Salvation Army for families in need of a shelter.

“Whatever Janice needs, we’re going to help her financially,” Dent said. He suggested Sierra Roots invest some of that into a paid or stipend staff position.

Dent and Phillips noted they were hosting an interfaith meeting on Thursday to discuss how local churches could potentially provide support.

“This is a humanitarian crisis and this is very complicated,” said Nevada City Council Member Reinette Senum, adding that county support is imperative and imploring the churches to open their doors. “It’s not fair for one city or one neighborhood to take this on.”

Council member Duane Strawser noted that negotiations involving the county are still ongoing, and moved to postpone further discussion on the Memorandum of Understanding. Olson noted the agreement is set to start Nov. 1 and agreed to bring it back in two weeks.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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