Warming shelter’s season debut in Nevada City goes smoothly | TheUnion.com

Warming shelter’s season debut in Nevada City goes smoothly

An emergency warming shelter in Nevada City housed about 25 people a night Saturday and Sunday. Monday night, with the rain and snow tapering off and temperatures rising a little bit, 17 people had checked in by 6 p.m., but more were expected to trickle in before the 10 p.m. cut-off.

Volunteers served up a meal of polenta with mushrooms, tortellini with pesto and chicken cacciatore, with cookies for dessert. A table was set up with mandarin oranges, juice and chips, as well as warm clothing like jeans and jackets, for anyone who came in later.

One of the volunteers helping out was Randy Miller, a longtime county resident who said he has been homeless, on and off, for five years. Miller, who has had nine heart surgeries, said his health issues make it hard to endure the bad weather.

"The night before last I was in my car and I about froze to death," he said.

Sunday night proved miserable as well, so Miller came in to the warming shelter, then returned Monday.

Volunteering to help out "gives me something to do," he said with a smile. "I like keeping busy."

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The collaborative effort by Sierra Roots, Nevada County and Nevada City opened the shelter on Saturday night at Seaman's Lodge, and then moved to the Nevada City Veteran's Memorial Building.

Sierra Roots, which has signed contracts with Nevada County and Nevada City to operate the warming shelter under certain weather conditions, was criticized by some the previous week for not opening despite several days of continuous rain.

The Memorandum of Understanding calls for the shelter to open if temperatures fall below 30 degrees; if the temperature falls below 34 degrees with 1 inch of rain in a 24-hour period; if the temperature falls below 34 degrees with snow on the ground; or if there are three or more consecutive days of rain.

At the time, Nevada City City Manager Catrina Olson and Sierra Roots founder Janice O'Brien said the contract does not cover predicted weather. O'Brien said the decision was made to open this last weekend because it had continued to rain and because the temperatures were dropping.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Nevada City staff in October after months of negotiations and after answering a number of concerns by both neighbors and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Requirements were added to mandate at least one male and one female volunteer for every 12 guests, as well as a security position. Other proposed changes dealt with hours of operation and a zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior and drug use. O'Brien told the city council she intends to cap the shelter's guests at 36 this year.

According to council member Erin Minett, who volunteered at the shelter all three nights it was open, all of the new safeguards put in place worked well. She added that many of the VFW hall's neighbors were unaware the shelter had even been open Sunday.

"I am incredibly humbled and grateful for all the people who volunteer," Minett said, adding a great deal of credit also went to City Manager Catrina Olson for "pulling strings" to get the shelter open on Saturday night.

"The people who need this, they all have a story," Minett said. "I've learned a lot. They're good people who need a helping hand."

According to O'Brien, Saturday night was a little rough, with one "pretty inebriated" man who would not go to sleep.

"The first night is always hard," she said, adding the enforced togetherness is difficult to adjust to. "But it's better than being out in the cold."

On Sunday night, O'Brien said, she gave the guests a "talking-to — like a mother. I told them, you've got to do this with us, so everyone feels safe and warm."

But, O'Brien added, "I have such great volunteers, I don't have to worry much."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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