Paul Cogley: The Sierra Roots weather shelter: what’s ahead and how far we’ve come |

Paul Cogley: The Sierra Roots weather shelter: what’s ahead and how far we’ve come

The Sierra Roots Weather Shelter Collaboration is at work to offer a welcoming place when brutal weather threatens the lives and safety of homeless residents in our community. The collaboration is comprised of Sierra Roots, Nevada County and Nevada City.

As always, this year the shelter will continue to operate according to the principles developed by Sierra Roots founder Janice O’Brien. The shelter has been widely lauded for its participatory relationships between shelter volunteers and chronically homeless participants.

New volunteers for the shelter will have an opportunity to sign up at the shelter volunteer training session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Nevada City Veterans Hall at the basement entrance in the back of the building.

At a time not so long ago, chronically homeless people in the Nevada City environs had nowhere to go when the weather turned bitter-cold and wet. That changed in 2013, when Janice made a request to use Seaman’s Lodge in Pioneer Park or the Veteran’s Hall on North Pine Street as an emergency shelter during those cold weather events. The city agreed to allow a shelter days the venues were not rented to a prior user.

… chronically homeless people in the Nevada City environs had nowhere to go when the weather turned bitter-cold and wet. That changed in 2013 …

From the start, the shelter was open to anyone who showed up homeless. Rules included no alcohol or drugs on shelter premises and no fighting or loud disturbances. That first year, some altercations happened at the shelter, but the participants soon realized they needed to cooperate and help throughout their stay.

However, in the winter of 2017, Sierra Roots got an influx of more homeless people when the Salvation Army shelter closed down in Grass Valley. Lots of rules were broken and complaints came into City Hall from the neighborhood.

In 2018, Nevada County stepped forward to offer help. Sierra Roots gratefully accepted the County’s proposal to pay hourly stipends for security personnel and some overnight monitors. This arrangement marked a turning point: finally, homelessness was beginning to be truly acknowledged as a community wide issue.

Last year, the shelter had a strong start. The collaboration with the County brought fresh energy and presence. County staff members volunteered their help. A closer connection has grown between the Sierra Roots Shelter volunteers and the Nevada City VFW Post veterans. The shelter opened for 22 nights last year, and City Manager Catrina Olsen was able to report to the Nevada City Council that the city received no neighborhood complaints all season.

In the upcoming winter season, the Sierra Roots Weather Shelter Collaboration is looking forward to taking even more strides.

For the first time, the decisions to open up the shelter will be determined by the Office of Emergency Services, based on specific criteria and OES-sanctioned weather predictions. OES’s involvement also means that the Sierra Roots shelter will be considered the priority user for the Vet’s Hall during extreme weather .

This year the shelter coordinator will receive stipend payments from Nevada County to help compensate for the hard work of managing the shelter and its volunteers. For this position, Sierra Roots has brought on Alice Johnson, an experienced monitor at the shelter. Alice is also the former manager of 211 Connecting Point where she oversaw the operations of their important community call center.

The Sierra Roots Weather Shelter is a production of a group of dedicated volunteers working together to build relationships with the chronically homeless men and women who show up for safety from the cold storms outside. May we inspire each other and engage ourselves toward the changes we intend to see!

Paul Cogley is executive director of Sierra Roots. He can be reached at

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