Nevada City OKs extreme weather shelter agreement with Nevada County, Sierra Roots |

Nevada City OKs extreme weather shelter agreement with Nevada County, Sierra Roots

Most of Nevada County has been sweltering through temperatures in the 90s this month. But local government is looking ahead to protect its most vulnerable citizens against extended periods of icy cold, rain and snow.

On Wednesday, Nevada City’s city council signed off on a memorandum of understanding that beefs up the extreme weather shelter hosted by the city in conjunction with Nevada County and nonprofit group Sierra Roots.

Last winter, Sierra Roots was criticized by some for not opening despite several days of continuous rain. At the time, City Manager Catrina Olson and Sierra Roots founder Janice O’Brien said the contract did not cover predicted weather.

That MOU, signed in October 2018, called 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.

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The new contract contains “significant changes” to the protocol for opening the extreme weather shelter, Olson told the council members Wednesday. Nevada County will now have the responsibility of making that determination, rather than Sierra Roots or Nevada City staff.

The county’s Office of Emergency Services will authorize Sierra Roots to open the shelter under the following conditions:

the National Weather Service’s low temperature prediction for Nevada City is forecasted to be at or below 30 degrees, for a period of four hours or more overnight;

the low temperature prediction for Nevada City is at or below 32 degrees, for a period of four hours or more overnight, with snow on the ground;

the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for western Nevada County for elevations at or below 3,000 feet;

or any other extreme weather event or condition identified by the Office of Emergency Services in consultation with the county Health and Human Services Agency and Nevada City staff.

The primary facility will be the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall on North Pine Street with the second choice being the Seaman’s Lodge, if available. The emergency shelter will take priority over private party rentals, with renters to receive 24 hours’ notice if they need to move an event, the MOU states. There are blacked out “no go” dates for use by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, mostly during Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas celebrations.

The triggers in the previous MOU, as to when to open a shelter, became “nebulous” in practice, said Mike Dent, the county’s housing director. The end result was Nevada City often had to scramble to finagle opening a shelter at the last minute.

Having the Office of Emergency Services act as the point agency and using forecasts by the National Weather Service will make those decisions more consistent, Dent said, adding Nevada City will always get at least 24 hours’ notice.

The agreement already has been signed by Sierra Roots, Dent said, and is being processed by county staff. The MOU runs from Aug. 1 to June 30, 2020, with potential days of operation for the shelter to run from Nov. 1 through the end of March, Dent said.

Sierra Roots is contracted to open for a maximum of 25 nights, Dent said, adding that it opened for 22 nights last year.

VFW on board

Nevada City VFW Post Quartermaster Luis DeLao told the council they were happy to work with the county to offer a more cohesive plan.

“We understand there is a huge homeless population,” he said. “We are not heartless.”

DeLao said the VFW’s past concerns regarding security measures had been addressed by Sierra Roots, adding that VFW volunteers had spent the night making sure people were safe and complying with the rules.

“We don’t want to have people out in the street,” he said. “We don’t want to see any tragedies happen.”

The new MOU has relaxed some of those requirements, Olson noted. Requirements were amended to mandate at least one male and one female volunteer for every 15 guests, up from last year’s 12. Sierra Roots will provide a paid security guard outside the facility being used one hour prior to opening to one hour after closing, versus the previous requirement of two hours. That is because staff found the security guard wasn’t actually necessary for two hours before opening, Dent said.

Dent said there will be consistent support from the county, including nurse visits and outreach staff looking to identify anyone high on the vulnerability index who could be transferred to medical care, a motel or Hospitality House. Staff from the county and Hospitality House will be on hand in the morning to transport guests where they need to go, he said.

“We’re even better prepared than last year,” Dent said. “The county has expanded support to Truckee and has provided $15,000 in funding to North San Juan to improve its ‘pop-up’ shelter. We’re trying to be proactive.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4236.

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