Survey: Nevada County sees decline in homeless population |

Survey: Nevada County sees decline in homeless population

Since Nevada County first began biennial homeless counts in 2009, the area has seen a decline in homeless population, going from 345 individuals six years ago, to 241 this year, according to the county’s preliminary homeless count.

“Homelessness is such a complicated issue,” said Nevada County Interim Behavioral Health Director Rebecca Slade. “There’s not just one reason why we have homeless folks and not one simple (solution) how to get them out of the terrible situation they are in … But we have housed 123 people since 2009, that we believe would have been homeless.”

The Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency has partnered with local nonprofits, community-based organizations, and the faith-based community to help reduce homelessness in the county.

The behavioral health department also serves 116 seriously mentally ill individuals in 72 housing units county-wide, including more than $1 million in supportive case management and housing vouchers, documents state.

“A lot of the services the county has provided, and from nonprofits and faith-based communities, we’re starting to see have some effect from the energy and resources and money we’re putting into our homeless problem.”Michael HeggartyNevada County Health and Human Services Interim Director

“A lot of the services the county has provided, and from nonprofits and faith-based communities, we’re starting to see have some effect from the energy and resources and money we’re putting into our homeless problem,” Nevada County Health and Human Services Interim Director Michael Heggarty said. “These things are hard to draw a direct line from point A to point B, but we have put in a lot of effort.”

Through the Regional Housing Authority, the county’s social services department oversees more than $1.7 million in low-income rental assistance support, including a $66,590 contract with the Salvation Army.

As one of the major homeless shelters in the area, Hospitality House has received more than $205,000 in grants from the county for general expenses, behavioral health therapy and case management.

“We have started our rapid rehousing program about a year and a half ago and we have assisted over 200 people into housing,” Hospitality House Executive Director Cindy Maple said. “And we’ve provided housing stabilization for them to make sure that they keep their housing, so we’ve been pretty successful. Probably around 90 percent of the people that we’ve assisted have retained their housing. I think that has made a huge difference in the drop in numbers.”

In partnership with the county’s Continuum of Care Collaborative, Hospitality House held its biennial homeless connect event in January, providing services to homeless people while conducting a “point-in-time” survey and count. Statistics from that event are given to the county to gauge the need for homeless services in western Nevada County.

Maple said although the county’s preliminary count shows a decline in the homeless population of more than 100 individuals over the past six years, their group continues to operate at a 54-bed capacity.

According to Maple, the decline in homeless numbers will not affect funding, as 55 percent of Hospitality House’s budget is funded by annual events and donations, while much of the rest comes from state housing programs.

Maple said the county funds specific positions at Hospitality House through grants that are not considered consistent annual funds.

Maple added that the county’s preliminary numbers don’t give specific details around the situations of each homeless individual, and that a further analysis of the homeless count will be provided from the more than 100 surveys Hospitality House is currently processing.

“This is just a snapshot, a point-in-time count, and in the past HUD has said you might miss up to 50 percent of all the homeless people out there,” said Maple. “In a city like San Francisco and Sacramento, you don’t have the forested areas like we have here, so it’s easier to count them. For us, people can remain pretty well-hidden — it’s hard for us to get an accurate count.”

Heggarty says the county’s final homeless count will be released by June 1, agreeing that the biennial count is never going to be completely accurate.

“But it is the only real data that we have, and I’d say I’m pretty confident in the data,” said Heggarty.

Janice O’Brien, president of Sierra Roots, a local homeless advocacy group, says the county’s homeless numbers don’t reflect the continued increase in services Sierra Roots is providing.

According to O’Brien, Sierra Roots serves around 36 homeless individuals a week, and the group has recently seen weeks where that number has doubled.

O’Brien says the county should designate a camp sanctuary for local homeless people, as she continues to see a growing number living in the wooded areas of the county with no access to basic resources.

“We always do the count in January when it’s cold and people are hunkered down some place, and they don’t come out,” said O’Brien. “So I don’t think it’s a realistic number. It sounds from what they’re saying is that we’re doing a good job of taking care of the homeless, and as far as I’m concerned that’s not true.”

Heggarty, though, says that the county is not suggesting they have solved the issue of homelessness in the area, but that there have been positive steps toward making it better.

“Nevada County does not have a silver bullet to cure homelessness,” said Heggarty. “We’re not going to get that number to zero, so we’re going to keep working at it. I’m not trying to send a message that homelessness is getting better and we don’t have to worry about it. We continue to hold homelessness as a high-priority need in our community.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email or call 530-477-4236.

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