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December 18, 2018 – Danny and his disabled wife, Louise Towe, spent last Christmas outdoors, huddled around a propane heater in a tent at a homeless campsite in the backwoods area of the Brunswick Basin.
This year, first the first time in years, the Towes will celebrate the holidays indoors, in their own home.
The day before Thanksgiving – with the help of a “village” of private individuals and nonprofit agencies – the aging couple moved into their new home, a modest place given to them on private property east of Grass Valley.
For the last several years, the Towes’ “home” had been well-kept tent campsites, explained Joe Naake, supervising outreach case manager for Hospitality House. Although they knew about the Hospitality House homeless shelter Utah’s Place, Danny Towe said he struggled with the close quarters and “all the rules.”
However, last March, they met Joe Naake, the supervising outreach case manager for Hospitality House. Naake wasn’t the first outreach counselor to contact the Towes, but he was the first one they trusted.
“My job is to open doors,” Naake said, “but there has to be a willingness to walk through. I offer a hand up, not a handout.”
Working with the multiagency Housing Resource Team and involved community members, Naake was able to open the door to a better life for the Towes – just in time to be home for the holidays.
Bad investment leads to homelessness
The Towes used to own a home in Alta Sierra. A bad investment destroyed their savings, causing them to lose their home and eventually also losing the car they were had moved into.
Danny Towe, 64, has experience in construction, and, “I’m young enough to do it again,” he said. He added that he also knows trailer repair and would like vocational training.
The two things that are keeping Danny Towe from a steady construction job are the fact that he has no car – and that his wife needs constant medical care.
Louise Towe, 60, has multiple medical problems, including diabetes, osteoporosis and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). For better and worse, the Towes have been married for 38 years. “I love him, and he loves me,” Louise Towe said simply.
Part of how Naake built the Towes’ trust was his reliability in driving Louise to doctor appointments – and the ER.
“I seriously don’t think Louise could survive another winter out in the cold,” Naake said.
“Joe keeps his promises,” Danny Towe said. “He’s a good man.”
It takes a village
As clichéd as the village concept might sound, that’s the working paradigm for housing and helping chronically homeless people, Naake said. “It works.”
Naake meets regularly with a Housing Resource Team that includes representatives from Hospitality House, FREED Center for Independent Living, Turning Point, Nevada County Behavioral Health and AMI (Alliance for the Mentally Ill) among others.
“We all know the same clients,” Naake said. “We work together to help them. The issues are complicated.”
For instance, FREED is helping Louise Towe qualify for SSI disability income, he noted.
It took a series of “God shots” to find a home for Danny and Louise Towe, Naake said. Through contacts in Housing Resource Team, several anonymous benefactors collaborated to provide a small home for Danny and Louise to restart their lives.
The Towes, however, are just two of 107 unique individuals Naake and his outreach team have helped in just the last two months. He estimated there are “hundreds” of other people living in the wild.
Besides Naake, Hospitality House has two outreach workers interacting with homeless people and local businesses in the Brunswick Basin business district.
Additionally, Hospitality House has one more outreach worker who drives a passenger van donated by United Way of Nevada County. The van ensures homeless people get to services like SPIRIT Peer Empowerment Center, Nevada County Social Services and Behavioral Health, One Stop job readiness, legal counsel and AA meetings.
In all, in October and November, the Hospitality House street outreach team engaged in 441 street conversations, gave 190 referrals to service providers and supplied 265 point-to-point rides, Naake reported. The goal is to reduce service calls to the Grass Valley Police Department in the Brunswick Basin by 50 percent through building relationships and providing transportation.
Making a difference
With his own history of homelessness, Naake has “street creds” when he approaches people on the streets and in the camps.
“I’m not trying to save the world,” Naake concluded, but, “everybody deserves an opportunity.”
While getting the Towes housed was a big step, Naake said his job is not done. He and other members of the resource team will continue to provide the couple with supportive services.
Danny and Louise hope to attend a Christmas dinner put on by one of the various community organizations.
The big difference this year is that they will sleep in their own home instead of a tent.