Sierra Roots, Nevada County warming shelter gets tested |

Sierra Roots, Nevada County warming shelter gets tested

FILE - Janice O'Brien, center, dishes out food to people at a homeless feeding operation in Nevada City in 2013.
Christopher Rosacker/ |

Following criticism that it was not open enough last year, the Sierra Roots warming shelter updated its memorandum of understanding with Nevada City in August, adding Nevada County to the agreement along with changes to the criteria for opening its doors. Since then, the shelter opened for four days over Thanksgiving weekend in its first test of its new policies.

“The changes in the MOU have improved the system,” Sierra Roots Executive Director Paul Cogley said, “I think it’s still a wait-and-see when it comes to whether the new criteria will satisfy everybody for when it’s appropriate to open the shelter.”

The shelter opened Nov. 26 through 29 and was at or near its 30-cot capacity each day, Cogley said.

Under its previous agreement, Sierra Roots opened the warming shelter when Nevada City Manager Catrina Olson was contacted by Sierra Roots following either a temperature drop below 30 degrees; temperature drop below 34 degrees with 1 inch of rain in a 24-hour period or with snow on the ground; or three consecutive days of rain.

With the changes to the memorandum of understanding the Nevada County Office of Emergency Service now makes the determination to open the shelter if:

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 weather service 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 in Nevada City; the weather service issues a winter storm warning for western Nevada County for elevations at or below 3,000 feet; or during any other extreme weather event or condition identified by the Office of Emergency Services in consultation with Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency and city staff.

“It’s always been a controversial question of what is the triggering event,” Cogley said. “That put two people (the Nevada City manager and Sierra Roots board president) in the seat of controversy as to whether a weather event triggers opening the shelter or not. This year the county has taken full responsibility for making that decision. The new criteria was supposed to resolve some of the issues, but we still have to see if that’s the case.”


According to Nevada County Housing Resources Manager Brendan Phillips, the county joined the agreement in order to help Sierra Roots’ efforts, to provide better communication, and because the shelter uses county funding and a county-owned building.

“The county just wanted a hand in helping all of the parties involved,” Phillips said. “We wanted to support the implementation of the cold weather shelter and offer any assistance we could, both financially and with staffing where applicable. We put money on the table so that’s essentially why the county got involved.”

The new agreement designates the Nevada City Veterans Hall as the priority building used for extreme weather sheltering, meaning if private parties rented the space they will get 24 hours’ notice before it’s commandeered for Sierra Roots’ warming shelter, except during blackout dates when the space is reserved by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“Previously, if a tenant had rented the Vets Hall from the city when the shelter was needed we would either move to Seaman’s Lodge or we would be out of luck if the Seaman’s Lodge was not available,” Cogley said. “Because the Office of Emergency Services is involved in the decision making, by county policy that means the Vets Hall becomes a priority emergency use — we didn’t have that status before. When OES says it’s time to open a shelter, we are the primary user and that’s included in people’s rental agreement.”

According to Cogley, the changes have also helped make the set-up and closing of the shelter more efficient by adding a dedicated storage container near the shelter housing the needed equipment so that volunteers no longer have to drive equipment and supplies to the location, which could take as long as two hours each time.

Nevada County Housing Director Mike Dent said the changes to the warming shelter have had the intended effect of better communication and efficiency so far, with the added benefits of fewer complaints about the shelter’s opening.

“We did it for efficiency in operating and enhancing communication and we have had really good communication so far this year,” Dent said. “There’s less complaints, but are we going to make everybody happy? No, not until we have a permanent location and permanent funding for that location will anybody be completely happy.”

The warming shelter is only funded to open for less than 30 days between last month and April, which is not enough to meet the needs of the homeless, Cogley said.

“Sierra Roots is working very well with the city staff and with the county staff, its a collaboration,” Cogley said. “The financial help from the county is great, but we still need donations for the shelter to continue in Nevada City.”

For more information or to donate to Sierra Roots, visit

RESOURCES Available to Persons Experiencing Homelessness

Since July, Nevada County has been operating a Homeless Outreach and Medical Engagement team, or HOME, which provides case management services and coordinates with other agencies to provide medical and housing resources. Since the first two months of its inception, HOME has engaged 63 people, with eight receiving medical engagement, 14 placed into treatment, and seven receiving recovery residencies. To reach the HOME team, call 530-470-2686 or email

Other resources available to Nevada County residents experiencing housing insecurity are listed below:

Regional Housing Authority

Phone: 530-671-0220; website:

Nevada County housing, residential and homeless services

Phone: 530-265-1437; website:

Pets of the Homelessness

Phone: 775-841-7463; website:

Cal Works assistance

Phone: 530-265-1760; website:

Interfaith Food Ministry

Phone: 530-273-8132; website:

Food Bank of Nevada County

Phone: 530-272-3796; website:

Nevada County employment services

Phone: 530-265-1760; website:

Housing guide

Phone: 211; website:

For students

Phone: 530-478-6400; website:

Nevada County veterans services

Phone: 530-273-3396; website:

Emergency shelters

Booth Family Center: 530-272-2669

Hospitality House: 530-615-0852

Salvation Army: 530-274-3500


To contact Staff Writer John Orona email or call 530-477-4229.

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