Nevada County’s first homeless shelter a game-changer (VIDEO) |

Nevada County’s first homeless shelter a game-changer (VIDEO)

Photo for The Union by Christopher Rosacker

After nearly a decade of work toward Nevada County’s first permanent homeless shelter, Hospitality House began renovation of a Glenbrook Basin building this week.

Not only does the shelter represent fulfillment of vision, it also marks a shift in the nonprofit’s practices.

“The journey to these doors has been long and arduous,” said Joanna Robinson, cofounder of Hospitality House and president of its board of directors, during a ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday. The 6,500-square-foot permanent shelter on Sutton Way is called Utah’s Place in honor of the late Hospitality House cofounder and homeless advocate Bruce “Utah” Phillips.

“Together, all of us have done work that’s created the opportunity this building represents,” said Robinson, Phillips’ widow.

Utah’s Place will be more than just a homeless shelter — it will become Hospitality House’s permanent home, providing year-round overnight sleeping quarters for as many as 54 guests and will include dedicated space for homeless families.

For the last nine years, shelter services grew from winter months only, to six months a year and finally to year-round coverage, all of which was accomplished by churches taking turns hosting bused guests. Currently, 28 churches host the nonprofit’s guests.

While the nonprofit’s current Welcome Center on South Church Street hosts guests during the day in downtown Grass Valley, where a hot lunch is served and visitors have access to medical care, social services, job counseling, showers and laundry facilities — the facility does not host anyone overnight.

“It will be a more sophisticated and stable program,” said a former guest who identified himself as Antonio. “With the busing, you are constantly sitting and waiting to go, just to sit and wait more. We were grateful, but that will make anyone irritable.”

As the new base of operations, all of Hospitality House’s services will be run out of Utah’s Place — services that include a rehousing program, limited medical and dental operations, counseling, employment outreach and case management, among other operations.

And while Tuesday’s ground-breaking milestone was cause for celebration, the organization still has close to $400,000 to raise to fund the $1.7 million acquisition and renovation project costs, Hospitality House Executive Director Cindy Maple is quick to point out.

“I promise you, if Utah were here today, he would insist that we change the name of this building to Cindy’s Place,” Robinson said Tuesday. “She, above all, has made this happen.”

Hospitality House acquired the facility through a $1 million federal Emergency Housing and Assistance Program Capital Development grant. After the grant was awarded, the project came to a halt in the spring of 2011 when negotiations with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers the shelter’s federal grant, became complicated and difficult, according County Executive Officer Rick Haffey. Since then, Hospitality House has pushed for HCD to release the funds to begin renovations, aided by the county, Grass Valley and the Nevada County Contractor’s Association.

On Feb. 27, HCD approved the release of funding, Haffey said.

With the federal funds in hand, Hospitality House was able to garner a “gap-funding” loan thanks to a benefactor who asked to remain anonymous, Maple said. The private donor stepped forward with a two-year loan to cover the $433,000 that Hospitality House still needed before renovation work on the building could begin — funds the organization will need to pay back.

Already $50,000 was donated for naming rights of shelter’s dining room, the day after the ground-breaking ceremony, Maple said.

Next week, contractor Bill Litchfield is expected to begin renovation according to the design of architect Robert Wallis of Wallis Design Studio — both working in charitable fashion. Keoni Allen and Barbara Bashall of the Nevada County Contractors Association also played sizable roles in the renovation, Maple notes.

The facility for Utah’s Place — which has previously been everything from a health club to a church — is expected to be completed in June. Once the men and their teams have wrapped up work, it will signify a monumental shift in Hospitality House’s operation.

“When I first walked in, I felt like I was home,” Maple said.

The building will feature a commercial kitchen from which three meals will be served daily in a large dining hall, which will not only will house daily meal operations, but also works well as a meeting room or workspace, Maple said. The nonprofit’s board of directors already meet there, as do various committees planning for upcoming events, such a planning session for a mid-May charity walk to benefit Utah’s Place. A separate medical room will be used for administering TB tests and flu shots and will provide respite space for those who are sick or injured.

“Our project is bare-bone necessities to meet city/county requirements,” Maple said. “It’s bare minimum. There is not any fluff.”

Maple also talked about doubling and quadrupling office space as the nonprofit grows, to allow for more space for guests.

“This is a huge breakthrough,” said Kent Riffey, a volunteer. “Most churches will see what they can do and change their mode of support. But now is the time to not just get wallets out, but to get out there and help.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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