Nevada County looks to streamline, coordinate ‘motel voucher’ system for homeless people |

Nevada County looks to streamline, coordinate ‘motel voucher’ system for homeless people

A pair of homeless individuals hope to receive assistance while holding signs in the rain along Sutton Way Wednesday afternoon. Days of wet weather make homeless living even harder.
Elias Funez/

California might need the precipitation, but for Nevada County’s homeless population, days and weeks of snow and rain is a life-threatening hardship.

Even though there are some “low-barrier” beds available at Hospitality House and occasional emergency warming shelters, it can be difficult for campers, especially those with pets, to find shelter during bad weather.

Nevada County has had an ad hoc “motel voucher” program for a number of years, designed to provide one-night stays at local motels under certain emergency situations. But because of the unusually wet and cold winter, there have been few vouchers available through 211 Connecting Point, the county program tasked with administering some of those funds.

“No warming shelter, Hospitality House is full, no motels via 211 or any other groups, camps are flooded and the homeless world is more miserable than ever,” Patti Galle of Nevada County Pets in Need posted via social media in late February. “It is so uncomfortable to have to tell people there is nothing for them to get out of the rain.”

Galle’s nonprofit raised about $8,000 earlier this year and housed about 30 people in motels, some for just one night and some for as long as a week. But eventually the decision was made to use donations to pay for foster care for pets, so that homeless clients could go to Hospitality House, get fed and receive more coordinated services.

“The community wants to get people out of the weather, there’s no question,” Galle said.

One big part of the problem, county officials say, is that there has never been an actual program to fund emergency motel beds. But according to Health and Human Services Agency Director Michael Heggarty, that is set to change, with plans in the works to create a more targeted policy.

There’s really no motel voucher program, as such, Heggarty said.

“We pay for rooms with credit cards,” he explained. “Different departments pay for emergency housing for their clients.”

The CalWorks Welfare to Work program, for example, has funding set aside for up to 16 days per year per client. The county probation department also has a small amount available for probationers.

“It’s all categorical,” Heggarty said, adding there is a small amount for general assistance for anyone who walks through the doors of Social Services, for one night of housing.

Because the county has been focusing on homelessness, some money has been set aside for those who aren’t already connected to services, Heggarty said. That is managed by Director of Housing & Child Support Services Mike Dent through 211 Connecting Point.

“Mike Dent decides what the priority is,” Connecting Point Executive Director Ann Guerra said. “The way it’s worked is, whatever the county asks us to do, we do. Maybe ‘It’s raining, so please give this person a room.’ It’s been that simple.”

According to Guerra, the county stepped up to provide financial assistance with motel beds because they saw a gap in services.

“This winter has been rough,” she said.

But because there has been such a demand, the county has been looking at how best to address the needs in a more programmatic fashion.

“The funds are getting used too quickly,” Heggarty said. “We need to revamp the system. Our intent is to use the coordinated entry system — that’s where the emergency motel beds will go, targeting those who are most vulnerable.”

This year and in years past, Dent said, the county’s practice has been to authorize funds when there was a need.

“There was no program, no protocol for the vouchers,” he said. “We just took money from the General Fund.”

Dent noted the county has funded a total of 27 more beds this year for homeless clients, including low-barrier beds at Hospitality House and through a bridge housing program.

But there are still situations, in emergencies and in times of bad weather when the extreme weather shelter has not been activated, when motel beds are still needed.

“We want to shift from being reactionary to being proactive,” Dent said. “For next year, we will look at using outreach workers, using the Homeless Management Information System to know who is most in need. … Our push will be to unify and coordinate our outreach programs, using that coordinated entry system, to help house the highest risk, highest need folks.”

Dent said his vision is to move away from what he called an “uncoordinated hodgepodge” of services. 211 Connecting Point will still play an important role, Dent said, adding that the outreach team will be better able to coordinate funding motel beds for specific clients with their help.

“With the funding streams that will be kicking in, we will have more staff and more treatment options and placement options,” he said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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