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No escape for homeless

Relatively cooler weather over the weekend was welcome relief for the county’s homeless, who have been exposed to more than three weeks of smoke and continue to recover from last week’s triple-digit temperatures.

“I was telling people I had to smoke cigarettes to get fresh air,” said Lief Thorsten as he sprinkled dried tobacco leaves onto a sheet of rolling paper Sunday morning. Thorsten joined about 30 other homeless people at Tobiassen Park to watch a baseball game and eat barbecued hamburgers at a weekly community gathering.

Thorsten, a Vietnam War veteran, said he has been “hiding out” and “living in the rough” in Nevada County for 30 years. Smoke from wildfires has been a nuisance for the man who sleeps outdoors without a tent.



Unhealthy air caused by wildfires throughout the northern Sierra combined last week with hotter-than-normal temperatures, prompting Hospitality House director Cindy Maple to open the shelter for two days last week.

The traveling shelter normally is closed during the summer months; the welcome center on South Church Street, in Grass Valley, does open for a few hours mid-day to serve lunch and offer a place to shower.




“They’re suffering. We have a lot of folks with respiratory problems. They have no escape from it,” Maple said.

Many of the area’s homeless are elderly and have health conditions including emphysema, heart problems and asthma that are exacerbated by the smoke and heat, Maple said.

“It’s killing my throat, who knows what’s going on inside of my chest,” said Markus Aurelius, 37, a healthy-looking man who moved into his car about six weeks ago and has been sleeping along the banks of the South Yuba River. The salary he earned as a car salesman in the Sacramento area couldn’t keep up with rising food and gas prices, he said.

“It just became unfeasible,” Aurelius said.

Providing enough cold water throughout the day has become a challenge, Maple said.

“They have a tough time staying hydrated. We’ve been going through a case of water in about an hour, they’re so thirsty,” Maple said.

When the shelter is closed, air-conditioned county libraries and movie theaters are welcome escapes, Maple said.

When in survival mode, looking for a meal, hiding from cops and finding a place to crash for the night are usually higher priorities then escaping from the smoke, said Tomas Streicher of Divine Spark, who holds the weekly Sunday lunch and baseball game.

Thorsten has learned to take it easy and forgo walking so much, hanging out at local bars when he can afford to, he said, laughing.

“I’m not doing as much exercise,” he said as he finished rolling his cigarette and popped it into his mouth with a grin.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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