Darrell Berkheimer: Nevada County’s homeless plans omitting one big step | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Nevada County’s homeless plans omitting one big step

Two well-developed, major projects have been initiated to help local homeless citizens receive the individual support services they need — with a goal of preparing them to transition into permanent housing situations.

Both were reported in The Union recently by staff writer Liz Kellar. And the two plans — developed separately by Nevada County and the nonprofit Sierra Roots — are well-designed to meet the long-term and permanent needs of our local homeless folks.

But neither plan resolves some immediate problems.

Kellar’s first story appeared on March 26, after the county’s plans for the Brunswick Commons Day Center were outlined to Grass Valley’s Development Review Committee.

In the second article, published on April 1, Kellar reports the hiring of Paul Cogley by Sierra Roots to serve as its executive director. Cogley, a former Nevada City planner, was selected to oversee Sierra Roots plan to build a tiny homes village to serve chronically homeless folks.

Nevada County plans to develop its Old Tunnel Road site with a two-story day center and a three-story apartment building containing 40 one- and two-bedroom units ranging from 600 to 800 square feet. And the site has space for a possible second apartment building.

The day center is planned to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with van transport available. It will have a lounge with a small bank of computers, mail service, and a kennel for pets.

It also will have several small offices where local agencies and nonprofits can meet with homeless and transitional residents to assist them with job searching and various physical and health issues.

The center will house a kitchen and laundry facilities, restrooms and showers. And the second floor will have nine transitional housing rooms, plus shared restrooms and showers.

Sierra Roots, meanwhile, is in the process of seeking financing — including funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — to purchase and develop a proposed 4.6-acre site into a Nevada City “micro village.” That plan calls for construction of 36 to 38 tiny houses — each one 288 square feet with bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette.

A community center building would provide a laundry, lockers, storage and shelter during bad weather. Some space also would be allotted for temporary tent or car camping. In addition, the nonprofit plans to offer on-site work projects for residents.

The project has been a several-years dream of Sierra Roots Board President Janice O’Brien. She has explained the plan is designed particularly to provide housing for chronically homeless citizens, but also to assist others in need of transitional housing.

Both will go a long way toward the realization of a Ten Year Strategic Plan to Address Homelessness — submitted to the county last year by Scott Thurmond of Thurmond Consulting. Thurmond also was interim director of Hospitality House prior to the hiring of Nancy Baglietto.

Thurmond’s 42-page plan lists several key conclusions and six potential strategies developed after a series of meetings and interviews with representatives from a long list of community agencies, businesses and law enforcement.

So now the county is doing an excellent job in developing five of those six strategies. But county officials have declined to move on the sixth strategy — the creation of a supervised legal camping area.

I understand their reluctance, because they have some good reasons for that resistance. But this community is in dire need of such a campsite – for a temporary period.

Such micro-shelter campsite communities usually include tents or small sheds, plus central facilities and amenities. They appear to be working well in certain cities in Oregon, Washington and other states. And in some locations, they are governed, managed and self-policed by residents in the campsite.

If well-supervised — a very important if — law enforcement agencies have tended to like the availability of such campsites because they provide an alternative to homeless citizens spending their days and nights on city streets, in residential neighborhoods, or in the forest. Such a campsite will help reduce repetitive calls requesting law enforcement visits.

The county’s concerns, however, are well-founded; because without that proper supervision, such campsites can deteriorate into a cluttered and scarred eyesore.

So, at best, such a campsite can be considered only a temporary way to help our homeless.

But Grass Valley and Nevada City are not like the big cities that initiated those campsites. Our twin cities are surrounded and internally dotted with pockets of woodlands that can pose extreme fire dangers to our residents.

Can we really afford to go without providing a temporary campsite to bring local homeless citizens in from the brush and wooded areas?

Can we really afford to wait the two or more years it will take for the county to develop Brunswick Commons? And for Sierra Roots to provide its tiny houses and shelter?

Doesn’t our fire danger situation appear to need an immediate homeless campsite facility prior to the worst part of this year’s fire season? And next year’s?

Wouldn’t it be wise to provide something similar to a small version of the temporary fire-camps established for the dozens of firefighters gathered to quell our major California blazes?

At the very minimum, couldn’t porta-potties be immediately provided to a campsite – plus a twice daily shuttle to town services?

And the campsite could be disbanded after either Brunswick Commons or the Sierra Roots site is developed.

Again, I can understand county officials’ reluctance — how they would prefer to forego the trouble and expense of operating such a temporary campsite for only two or three years. But various agency studies have proven that such transitional shelters reduce the high costs of providing repetitive services to unsheltered homeless folks.

And finally, isn’t it more important to prevent the expense and damages of a major home-consuming blaze that might erupt from a homeless camp in the nearby brush?

Hasn’t that danger been the topic of many discussions in our local households, and at community meetings?

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of six books available through Amazon. His latest, Essays from The Golden Throne, also is available at Book Seller in Grass Valley. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.

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