Jim Hemig: Out of the box thinking that could help our homeless | TheUnion.com

Jim Hemig: Out of the box thinking that could help our homeless

Greg Zaller's Mobile Outreach Unit (MOU)

I’ve been rather adamant that we should not be closed off when it comes to researching and selecting ideas to improve our homelessness situation in western Nevada County. With nationwide efforts around this topic, why would we not look outside our area for additional ideas and possible solutions?

My interest in seeking more possibilities led The Union and KVMR to invite national homeless consultant, Dr. Robert Marbut, to come to Grass Valley and speak to a full house last year. Marbut’s speech did fire up the conversation. It even offended a few people.

Although I accomplished my goal to spark further dialog and seek more direction from outside our region, what’s more exciting is some of the unique work happening locally.

Since Marbut’s presentation there has been an upwelling of new ideas and possibilities that are being developed in our own backyard. These efforts could make a difference in the battle against homelessness in 2016.

Some of these may work and some may not, but it’s the effort that I find compelling because at the core of each of these possibilities are people who really care and are unselfishly just trying to help others who are down on their luck.

I feel it’s important to share and recognize these efforts. Some of these may work and some may not, but it’s the effort that I find compelling because at the core of each of these possibilities are people who really care and are unselfishly just trying to help others who are down on their luck.

Resource Center

Divine Spark plans to open a new Resource Center on Jan. 17. Initially, the location will be used as a “come as you are” location where local nonprofits Divine Spark and Sierra Roots are relocating their street food services and teaming up to provide nutritious lunches four days a week to anyone in need. They will also provide clothing and pet services.

The property has a one-story house and a large lot. Divine Spark repainted the interior, added new carpet and heating, and filled up the back storeroom with food reserves. I was impressed with the light and inviting environment they have created with their open floor plan.

Shirley Kinghorn, executive director of Divine Spark, told me while touring the proposed center, “We want to create a warm place and sense of community.”

The vision for this property is grander than just food services, though. Kinghorn is hoping to have additional day services, including laundry, showers, bathrooms, lockers and an organic garden, by June. Divine Spark wants to expand to seven days a week and include day-training programs.

“This could be a perfect opportunity to have social workers connect directly with the homeless,” Kinghorn added.

Homeless advocate Pauli Halstead purchased the property on Gold Flat Road in Nevada City last October, planning to lease it back to Divine Spark specifically for the purpose of a community center or a day center for our homeless population. She said the property is zoned for light industrial and meets with city and county regulations.

Pauli told me, “After listening to Marbut, we thought it was important to have one place for food and support and then build from there.”

If you would like to donate your time, household or garden equipment, or make a financial donation, contact Shirley at 530-913-2050 or visit http://www.divinespark.us.


Another active homelessness supporter, Greg Zaller, landed a donated RV that he plans to turn into a “Mobile Outreach Unit.”

On a rainy day this week, Greg showed me the massive vehicle. He is cleaning it up, making repairs and installing a clothes washer. His goal is to provide mobile services that include showers, laundry, a bathroom, shelter and maybe even phone services. Greg’s vision is to have someone staff the vehicle and visit homeless camps during the day to provide services and possibly even some counseling.

Greg is currently enrolled in life-coaching classes and hopes to provide guidance along with the MOU’s services. He wants this outreach effort to steer people to services like the Divine Spark Resource Center, Hospitality House and county services.

Greg, too, cited Marbut’s presentation, saying, “We all need to get on the same page,” and referred to Marbut’s ideas about connecting services with support.

He is also looking for interested parties to support this effort. Greg can be reached at gregzaller@gmail.com.

Small houses

Greg has also built a tiny house prototype; a 500 sq. ft., one story house that includes a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms, which can be converted into a garage if the need for this structure changes. Greg estimated it costs about $20,000 if you build it yourself based on the current plans, or $50,000 if a contractor builds it for you.

His vision for this project is to provide a means for small housing that a property owner with an acre or more can contribute to local housing, either short term or long term. The house can also be built detached from a current dwelling and rented out to supplement our low income housing needs.

Zaller currently works closely with Hospitality House providing housing transition options for our area homeless. He has two co-living houses; one is right around the corner from where I live, and I didn’t even know it. Greg hopes that these small houses will find a place in our community and increase the options for lower income folks.

Elected official support

Another suggestion from Marbut was greater participation and leadership from our elected officials. To that end, I’m happy to report that Grass Valley City Council member Lisa Swarthout and Nevada City Council member Robert Bergman have offered to help provide some of that leadership.

Swarthout and Bergman called for a meeting of our top city and county elected officials. City managers from both cities, both police chiefs, both mayors, the chair of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors and top county officials all met and endorsed both Lisa and Robert looking into opportunities to improve our homelessness efforts. Lisa and Robert are now scheduling individual meetings with all of the nonprofits that support homelessness in an effort to understand our current support services and to identify gaps. Both city council members intend to learn and report back to their larger groups.

I think it’s important to note that this issue isn’t an easy one to address, and Lisa and Robert are not paid to tackle this topic. I’m impressed with their level of interest and willingness to help our community.

People like Shirley Kinghorn, Pauli Halstead, Greg Zaller, Lisa Swarthout and Robert Bergman and others who give so tirelessly to this cause provide a remarkable community service. They should all be commended. It’s amazing what a small group of dedicated volunteers can accomplish when they work to find solutions.

To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email jhemig@theunion.com or call 530-477-4299.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


Kenly Weills: Outrage to paint over street art


On May 29, I watched Nevada City’s amazing caretaker Miriam Morris starting to paint a river on Commercial Street’s pavement. Well-planted containers added to the beautification finally coming to a street that had been dug…

See more