Pauli Halstead: Discriminatory policy for mentally ill, addicted homeless people | TheUnion.com

Pauli Halstead: Discriminatory policy for mentally ill, addicted homeless people

Other Voices
Pauli Halstead

The most functionally challenged of Nevada County's chronically homeless population has been overlooked by the Board of Supervisors in terms of funding!

There seems to be an unrecognized policy of social apartheid in which only those homeless people who can function adequately are given access to services, which include a warming shelter in the winter.

In the past Health and Human Services policy was not to provide outreach at nonprofit lunches, Streicher House, and the winter warming shelter in Nevada City. However, these are the places that the chronically homeless show up.

According to the Mental Health Services Act annual plan update, which the Board of Supervisors just approved, the functionally challenged homeless (mentally ill and addicted) are your target population. It's your responsibility to make sure there is sufficient outreach and they are served equally when using county taxpayer, state, and federal funds.

Just because this group is more difficult to manage does not make them less deserving of county funding and programs.

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Target population — those adults 18 and up who are seriously mentally ill (SMI) whose service needs are unmet or so minimally met they fall into the unmet category, which places them at risk of incarceration, institutionalization, becoming homeless or are currently homeless.

In January, the Board of Supervisors and the City of Grass Valley allocated a total of $74,000 in funds to Hospitality House to admit 15 additional homeless people (69 total guests) from Nov. 15 to April 15. Hospitality House is not a low-barrier shelter so all the remaining folks, who were unable to stay sober or were too mentally ill to access Hospitality House, were relegated to spending the winter in wet and freezing weather under the most intolerable conditions in which they suffered greatly.

As a result of the county's decision not to fund warming shelter services equally, the remaining population of homeless came to Nevada City desperately trying to get into the warming shelter operated by Sierra Roots. The Nevada City shelter received no county funding, but was tasked with managing more people than either Seaman's Lodge or the Veterans Building could comfortably hold. At times, Sierra Roots did not have sufficient volunteers, nor was there outside security during the hours of operation, which resulted in problems in the neighborhoods

To make matters worse, neither building was consistently available, so the warming shelter opened sporadically for a total of 16 nights over the entire winter.

Hospitality House let people in the door all winter, no temperature or weather condition criteria. Nevada City and Sierra Roots' MOU criteria for opening was 30 degrees, if dry, or 34 degrees with 1 inch of rain or snow on the ground in a 24-hour period, or three or more days of rain. Several times it rained for three or more consecutive days and the shelter did not open. More often than not, by the time the shelter did open, everyone was already soaking wet and freezing cold. Then everyone had to go back out into the cold and wet weather at 7:30 in the morning.

In addition to being open all winter, Hospitality House offered a full range of services with caseworkers for those fortunate enough to get in. These services were not uniformly provided by Health and Human Services at the Nevada City warming shelter. This represents a missed opportunity to connect with the most vulnerable of the homeless population, which, according to the HUD "Housing First" program, are to be housed. We cannot house people that we don't connect with.

The disparity in funding and access to services for the most mentally ill and addicted of the homeless population represents a discriminatory policy that the county must correct. Just because this group is more difficult to manage does not make them less deserving of county funding and programs. And, there is no reason their care should fall on the cities of Nevada City and Grass Valley, which have no Health and Human Services budget.

Furthermore, their care certainly should not be the responsibility of nonprofits with limited funds and volunteers.

If Nevada County is going to fund services, then those funds and services have to be equally and fairly distributed among all levels of the homeless population. When using county taxpayer dollars, state and federal funding, this is not only the moral thing to do, it is also the legal mandate. The county cannot pick and choose who are deserving of services and who are not when using public funds.

Pauli Halstead lives in Nevada City.