Use of Nevada City vets’ hall by homeless opposed |

Use of Nevada City vets’ hall by homeless opposed

A new nonprofit will organize and operate an emergency cold-weather homeless shelter at Nevada City’s Veteran’s Memorial Building, despite protests of neighborhood residents who attended Wednesday’s Nevada City Council meeting to oppose the proposed use.

“I don’t think you understand when you open this door, what you will leave behind for the neighborhood,” warned resident Christine Foster.

After a dozen people ardently spoke against using the building to serve the homeless at the meeting, council members gave Sierra Roots conditional use of the veteran’s building, which will expire at the end of January.

The January expiration date is designed to protect homeless people should a blizzard or some other cold weather emergency arise in the short term while encouraging Sierra Roots to seek alternatives immediately, council members reasoned.

“Our ultimate goal would be to take the veteran’s building off the table,” said Mayor Sally Harris. “It is not appropriate for feeding programs or for a shelter.”

Located at 415 N. Pine St., the Nevada City Veteran’s Memorial Building has been used since 2010 to shelter people from the cold ­— though the city has previously paid Nevada County staff to operate the building and also used volunteers.

Last winter, the Salvation Army bused Nevada City’s homeless to a Grass Valley shelter, but that organization reportedly notified the city it would not be able to provide that service this year, according to City Manager David Brennan.

“We made the decision, several years ago, to use the vets building under dire emergency situations as a shelter,” said Councilman Duane Strawser. “As far as I know, we haven’t undone what we put in place.”

But past uses of the veteran’s building, namely by Nevada City nonprofit Divine Spark to previously feed the homeless during weekdays, has “burned bridges” with the facility’s neighbors, Harris said.

“Divine Spark, really, really made a very bad impression,” Harris said.

Neighbors alleged Wednesday that Divine Spark’s clientele would hang out before and after the feeding program, making messes and causing disturbances and other problems.

“There are many places that can be used to solve the problem,” said resident Stuart Shepse. “But it continues to be the one place that is focused upon. It is less than 500 feet from an elementary school, less than 100 feet from a day care and less than 5 feet from a residential area.”

But Councilman Robert Bergman pointed out that none of Wednesday’s grievances were focused on past emergency shelter operations. Instead, they emanated from the feeding operations.

“I can guarantee you that if someone dies out there and the city hasn’t done something, these (council chambers) will once again be stuffed with irate people demanding answers,” warned former councilwoman Reinette Senum.

Council directed staff members to re-evaluate Sierra Roots’ use of the building as a shelter at the council’s Jan. 8 meeting, giving the nonprofit enough time to make back-up plans before the tentative late January expiration of its use of the building.

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