Nevada County’s elected officials say collaboration needed to combat homelessness | TheUnion.com

Nevada County’s elected officials say collaboration needed to combat homelessness

The homeless issue can't be solved without local government's involvement.

That's the feeling of many people when asked about Nevada County's homeless, whether they're distributing food to the needy or sitting in council chambers.

A fragmented solution won't work. Nonprofits and elected officials must work together, they say.

"It's the only way it'll happen, isn't it?" said Evans Phelps, vice mayor of Nevada City. "It's too big a problem for any one of us to handle."

The homeless issue has existed for years in Nevada County, though it's bubbled to the surface of community discussion over the past several weeks.

A town hall forum this month on homelessness filled downtown Grass Valley's Center for the Arts.

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The county Board of Supervisors in its past two meetings have heard calls for turning public land into temporary housing for the homeless.

Ed Scofield, chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, said he intended to meet with Grass Valley Mayor Jason Fouyer and Nevada City Mayor Jennifer Ray about the larger issue of homelessness.

"We might not have any answers," Scofield said, "but at least we're talking about it."

What's next

The elected leaders of Nevada County, Grass Valley and Nevada City agree that a unified approach is essential to solve the community's homelessness issue.

Fouyer, in a written statement, calls for local governments, homeless organizations and community stakeholders to work together.

"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," Fouyer states.

The following steps should include identifying those groups' strengths and their respective resources each can use to help the homeless, Fouyer continues.

Phelps said that group must have a plan before it starts spending money. She questioned how the unified panel would assist the homeless.

"Do we help them with a place to sleep, with a place to go during the day?" Phelps asked. "We don't even know how far we want to help people. Where do we want to start?"

Phelps said a leader, likely hired by local government, must spearhead the effort.

Ray, in written comments, said the community must identify the homeless population, and determine how many are dependent on drugs or alcohol as well have those who have mental illness.

"As a licensed psychologist, I can tell you that you must treat the dependence and addiction prior to mental health issues such as schizophrenia and bipolar," Ray states. "The homeless problem is much worse than it used to be and the answer is not to create a culture of dependence."

Robert Bergman, a Nevada City councilman, called homelessness a complex set of issues with no easy answers. He said nonprofits do great work, but can't solve the problem alone.

"It requires a more coordinated effort," he added. "It's hard work. It's commitment."

Nevada City Councilman Duane Strawser said he remains open-minded and is willing to look at any functioning model.

A tent city, or homeless village, however, isn't one of them.

Strawser said such villages can led to disease, violence and an increased homeless population. He instead wants local government to continue working with nonprofits and examining ideas.

Scofield also opposes a homeless village in Nevada County, saying it could exacerbate the problem.

The chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Scofield said efforts to reduce homelessness must have a leader who understands the issue and is "hands on."

But, like Phelps, Scofield suggests local officials should study the results of Robert Marbut, the homeless consultant who led this month's town hall forum, before committing dollars.

"Before we want to spend money on what he's saying, we need to see the results," he said.

Like Strawser, Scofield in written comments said he wants to be open-minded to suggestions and recommendations.

"I'd say we've already started, but there's much more work to be done," Scofield states. "Build on what we have that's working and beware of quick actions that might cause more problems than are solved."

What they've done

Many funds that assist programs used by homeless people come from the state and federal governments, moving through Nevada County's government to local entities.

Nevada County had $8,458,953 in its budget this year for social services programs that assist the homeless or prevent homelessness.

Of that, $185,500 is from the county's general fund, and is used for county aid and relief to indigents and emergency housing and support, records state.

The remainder of the funds is used for programs like Section 8 and emergency housing, as well as CALWorks assistance payments and The Salvation Army's emergency response shelter services, county documents show.

Fouyer, in a written statement, noted several projects his council has supported.

According to Fouyer, Grass Valley has provided $250,000 to Habitat for Humanity projects. It's also provided $750,000 in grant funds to upgrade the LOVE building, where meals and other programs are offered. Additionally, it's spent over $1 million to renovate lower income residences over the past several years.

Grass Valley City Manager Bob Richardson noted the city has police officers dedicated to connecting the homeless with services.

City money also is used to clean their encampments and fight fires, some of which he said are started by the homeless.

Nevada City Councilwoman Terri Andersen said in a written statement that her city's police coordinates with nonprofits like Divine Spark, Sierra Roots and Hospitality House.

"We continue to work with our police and make available sites for weekly meals provided by those groups," Andersen states. "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."

Phelps suggested the local governments start their efforts in earnest after the holidays.

"We're a democracy," Phelps said. "We need to get together.

"We can't do it all," she added moments later. "But maybe we can do a little bit."

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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