Janice O’Brien: Supportive community housing a solution for people who are homeless now — or will be soon
June 9, 2017
In answer to Michael Heggarty's piece in The Union on May 15, and in solidarity with the piece about tiny houses fixing the huge problem of a growing number of people becoming homeless, I wish to speak out.
Sierra Roots, a nonprofit that is already serving this population has as its mission, the creation and development of a Supportive Community of small bedroom units surrounding a Community Center with a commercial kitchen, laundry and bathrooms for the residents. We begin by building community with the people who are homeless, knowing that sincere and trusting relationship is the first step towards helping them towards health and purpose. We call this "building community with our people who are without homes."
We have been doing this for several years now through our lunches, our advocacy work, getting medical help for them and opening a cold weather shelter this past winter. This is a temporary help until we can provide supportive community housing for them.
Once we find a site of 4 to 5 acres, the residents and our team of volunteers and non-profit leaders will work to build a Community Center and 30 tiny cabins or sleeping units by using sustainable building methods.
All use permits and zoning regulations will be followed with the help of our Project Development team of volunteers. We have plans to include an aquaponic organic garden, bee-keeping, a dwarf tree orchard and a barn/workshop where residents can develop micro-enterprises. The residents will be responsible for maintaining and improving the Community. There will also be experienced managers on site around-the-clock to handle any issues arising.
A council of residents and nonprofit leaders will oversee the self managed community. Applicants to the community must be local, and will be interviewed with a motivational interview to help them decide on a path to health, purpose and well-being. Advocates are being trained now to be available to individual residents to help them follow their chosen path to health. These advocates are already working with individuals who are chronically homeless and need and respond to one-on-one personal help.
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Supportive Community Housing is definitely needed in this community for our chronically homeless residents. They need to be safe, sheltered and supported in their journey to health, sustainability and civic participation. Residents will pay a percentage of their income for rent or provide sweat equity by working on the land. This is just one proved solution to the local homeless situation in our community. Sierra Roots has a plan and is ready to go forward with it once we find a suitable site.
Sierra Roots is not seeking funding from the cities or the county. We are only asking for cooperation and collaboration to help us see this project through for the benefit of the whole community. This is one positive solution for the chronically homeless who are now living in the forest, camping illegally, leaving trash and being the source of extreme fire danger and community aggravation and fear.
A 24/7 emergency shelter is transitional housing. This Sierra Roots solution would be a sustainable, affordable and beautiful permanent housing for those who cannot find or pay for apartment housing and cannot live in an apartment. They want to work the land, have a separate and private dwelling of their own that can be locked and safe. The Village will be a central place for county agencies to connect with people and where those needing day laborers can find them.
Can this work successfully and be sustainable? Absolutely!
Sierra Roots Board members and volunteers are dedicated and passionate about making sure it works. A 24/7 emergency shelter is good for transitional housing but still is not a place to call their own.
Sierra Roots and the many donors, volunteers and leaders work with the people who are without homes instead of working as a charitable organization that gives temporary aid to these individuals.
Sierra Roots does provide a hand up instead of a hand out. And as we do that, we also provide food, clothing, tents and tarps that are needed until we can find a sanctuary site on which to build the supportive community housing we envision.
Please join one of our teams: Advocates Team, Emergency Shelter Team, Lunch Team, Project/Development Team, or Grant Writing Team.
Janice O'Brien is the co-founder and president of Sierra Roots. She has lived in the community since 1999 and lost her son and daughter-in-law to the ravages of homelessness in Nevada City, and has raised their three children since February of 2001.