Not all homeless people want help when it’s offered, Nevada County officials say
August 19, 2018
Dispatchers received a handful of calls within a few hours about the woman sitting near Highway 20.
The reports were similar: A woman was sitting under the South Ponderosa Way overpass. She wore a shirt, pants and no shoes. One caller said the woman "appears out of it."
Dispatchers received those calls Wednesday. Sheriff Keith Royal said he didn't know how long the woman had been there, though his deputies first contacted her on Aug. 8.
"We've had a number of contacts," Royal said.
The Sheriff's Office conducts about 16 welfare checks each week. Grass Valley police said it's made 400 such checks this year, which averages about 12 a week.
Despite these checks, not everyone wants help.
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On Aug. 12 officers arrested the woman for giving a false identity and she was released from jail. At some point she received a littering citation, the sheriff said.
Other states have active arrest warrants for her, but they're unwilling to extradite, he added.
The woman could face a fine for littering, but if she has no money then the citation would amount to little. Nuisance crimes likely would result in a citation and release.
However, an arrest potentially could provide an incentive to get assistance, Royal said.
Barring another arrest, the woman will remain along the highway or wander elsewhere.
"It's not against the law to be a transient," Royal said.
County workers know the woman is there, as does Hospitality House. Employees at both declined to give specifics, citing confidentiality.
Mike Dent, the county's director of housing and child support services, agreed with Royal's assessment — an arrest could provide leverage to get someone services. According to Dent, a judge would offer, for example, four months in jail or Mental Health Court, the latter of which could lead to assistance.
The problem is that the person Dent wants to help has to meet him halfway.
"Everyone wants to help, but does the person receiving help want it?" he asked.
Joe Naake, supervising outreach case manager with Hospitality House, said he tries to build rapport with those he wants to help. He might not get through to the person on the first or second try, but he keeps trying.
"And that takes time," he said. "Sometimes it starts small. It starts with a 'hello.'"
Usually, if people truly want solitude and no help, they won't be visible. Frequenting town, or places nearby, indicate they want something, Naake said.
And once rapport is built, Naake and others can help.
Naake pointed to the recently formed Homeless Outreach Team as a fresh step in providing that help. The group, meeting consistently for about three months, includes the Sheriff's Office and Grass Valley police, as well as the county Behavioral Health and Probation departments.
The agencies discuss the people who need help and whether there's housing for them.
The various groups offer different services, once someone is connected to them. Dent said there's housing and mental health counseling, though case workers start with each person's most pressing need.
"But again, she'd need to be willing," Dent said.
According to Royal, it's possible the woman could tap into services if she fails to appear in court on the false identity charge. Authorities would issue a warrant for her arrest if she didn't show up, she'd be arrested and then potentially find herself in a position wanting assistance.
That court appearance could be weeks away, as could the woman. The calls to dispatch about her tapered off Wednesday night, and no one sat underneath the South Ponderosa Way overpass Thursday afternoon.
To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
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