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Nevada County homeless overview presented to Nevada City council

Nevada County’s Health and Human Services Director, Michael Heggarty, recently gave an overview of the homeless situation to the Nevada City Council where he provided statistics and a stance on issues such as the desire of some to provide tiny homes for those who are homeless.

The meeting, according to City Manager Mark Prestwich, was an opportunity to provide background information to the council members before bringing a comprehensive plan back to the council for its Nov. 9 meeting.

Heggarty discussed the practices that the county is currently utilizing, talked about the costs of homelessness, and briefly went over the effectiveness of different strategies at reducing and preventing homelessness. He also briefly discussed the different county services and programs that are currently available.

“Why are people homeless?” Heggarty rhetorically asked the council during its Oct. 26 meeting. “Primarily, people are homeless because they don’t have enough income or housing is so expensive, or a combination of the two. Low income and the lack of affordable housing.”

“Why are people homeless? Primarily, people are homeless because they don’t have enough income or housing is so expensive, or a combination of the two. Low income and the lack of affordable housing.”Michael HeggartyNevada County Health and Human Services director

Heggarty went on to explain the local homeless count and its vitality in terms of securing federal funding.

Heggarty provided numbers from homeless counts in 2009, where 345 were counted, in 2011 with 190 counted, in 2013, where 314 were counted, and in 2015, with 279 counted.

“I would say we probably have between 250 and 600 and that’s the best guess I can come up with,” Heggarty said, He said the 190 counted in 2011 was likely not accurate due to it being a snowy winter and not being able to locate as many homeless.

Out of the 279 homeless people contacted in 2015, 39 percent were chronically homeless, 9 percent were youth 25 and younger, 8 percent were veterans, 51 percent had a mental health condition or disorder, 28 percent had substance use disorders, 11 percent had a developmental disability, and 19 percent a physical disability.

Heggarty went on to address a common misconception that he hears regarding attracting more homeless if more shelters and programs are provided.

“We often hear, well, if we have really good services and programs and shelters, a whole bunch of homeless people are just going to move to our county, they’ll look us up and say, oh we want to go to Nevada County because I hear they have good programs,” Heggarty said, providing statistics that disprove that theory.

Eighty-five of the 279 people contacted said that they stay here because this is where their family and friends are.

“Basically the same reasons why I stay in Nevada County, and why you stay in Nevada County,” Heggarty said.

Forty-five people said they are originally from Nevada County. Only seven said they were just passing through, and only three said it was because there are better social services available here.

Heggarty went on to describe the cost of homelessness to taxpayers — an estimated $35,000 to $150,000 per person.

An 18-month study from the Corporation for Supportive Housing was also provided to the council, which showed that permanent housing was less expensive than trying to provide transitional housing. According to the study, only 22 percent of those who sought permanent housing returned to homelessness, as opposed to 42 percent who returned to homelessness after securing transitional housing.

Heggarty went on to explain his stance on tiny houses.

“You have to be careful to define what it is you’re talking about,” he said. “Are you talking about a trailer, an RV, a hardwalled tent, or a small home? All of those things are more or less referred to as tiny houses. Depending on which one it is, I would be more or less supportive of it.”

Heggarty said there is little to no evidence that supports temporary housing as a preventative measure to homelessness.

“It is hard for us to secure state or federal funding for something called a tiny house, whether it is stationary or on wheels,” he said. “HUD won’t fund it. Overall, it is more expensive than the permanent supportive housing approach.

“If the concept of tiny houses grows bigger than it is now and we begin to develop a body of evidence and research that shows effectiveness, I would be persuaded to look at that,” Heggarty added. “I haven’t seen that yet.”

To contact Staff Writer Elias Funez, email efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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