July 29, 2019 – The experts got together one day, and they all agree: more must be done to successfully manage Nevada County’s homeless population. Rising rents, a lack of middle class jobs, and overworked community social services mean that even with a strong economy, plenty of people are still unable to afford a permanent place to stay.
This year’s Point-in-Time (PIT) count, for instance, revealed over 400 homeless people in the county, the highest number ever recorded. Experts generally agree the PIT numbers reflect about half of the total population of homeless individuals in any area.
A recent meeting between Nancy Baglietto, Hospitality House Executive Director, Jason Winters, social services coordinator for The Salvation Army’s Grass Valley Corps, and Paul Cogley, the Executive Director for Sierra Roots in Nevada City, offered an opportunity for discussion and planning between the three non-governmental agencies working on solutions.
“We come together as often as we can to support each other,” explained Baglietto. “The services we collectively provide are critical to our community.”
The services at hand are extensive and are continuously improved upon to better serve people in need. Winters, for example, helps manage The Salvation Army’s local office, which oversees the Booth Family Center on Rough and Ready Highway, a shelter for homeless families.
He also writes and administers grants, oversees contracts, does the bookkeeping, answers the emails. And, finally, he’s the Vice-Chair of the Nevada County Regional Continuum of Care, responsible for handling federal housing and homelessness support programs and grants.
“It’s a big job,” he admitted. “But I actually wish it were bigger – we only have nine units available at any time for homeless families, and we always have a waiting list. There is a lot more need out there.”
At some point in the future, Winters hopes to open an additional 20-unit homeless family shelter. “It’s a dream,” he said. Unfortunately, federal and state assistance funds have been shifting more toward urban areas, rural communities often find themselves struggling to maintain current services, let alone expand.
“Even if we could get designs and permits for a new shelter, we’d still have to locate a site with suitable infrastructure and find funding to not only build, but to operate the facility.” He shook his head. “More than we have, that’s for sure.”
“Hospitality House lost $280,000 in federal HUD funding in 2018, and anticipates the same outcome in 2019 as HUD moves toward funding permanent housing,” Baglietto said. “These dollars funded rapid re-housing and emergency shelter. It’s a big chunk of money to try to replace with private donations and other grant sources.”
“We offer a myriad of services from case management to job training to recuperative care and emergency shelter,” she continued. “As the leading homeless services provider in Nevada County, last year alone we served almost 40,000 meals, and over 22,000 bed nights, in addition to providing specialized programming and services to 501 unique homeless individuals and transitioning 120 people into permanent homes of their own.”
While Cogley’s organization, Sierra Roots, does not operate a permanent facility, it has sustained itself over the years entirely through private donations and opened a temporary warming shelter this past winter.
“Grass roots community building, that’s our strength and history, something we strongly believe in,” Cogley says. “This year we opened the emergency shelter during the worst winter nights. Our way is that everyone at our shelters, the volunteers and homeless alike, are expected to pitch-in to make something good and useful happen together. We set-up the shelter, prepare and clean-up after meals, take down the shelter in the morning, and clean the premises. Through this experience we are brought together, building relationships and feeling the benefits of community.”
Like all of the programs, Sierra Roots offers clothing and personal supplies. They also work closely with homeless participants who want to access community services. As the organization grows, it has also become necessary to begin seeking funding sources from outside its donor base.
“We have a big dream,” Cogley said. “It’s all in what I call a vision space right now,” he cautioned. “As many people know, we want to create a village community of 30 or so small homes near local services and transportation. And that means land, construction, engineering. All costly.”
“That is the strength of the Housing First approach,” Baglietto responded. “By bringing folks into a central area, and especially into a stable environment, they can rest and feel safe, and we can much more easily find them to provide access to the resources available here in the community.”
“We work with a lot of long-term, chronically homeless folks who’ve been camping out in the woods, sometimes for years,” Cogley added. “They can be reluctant to come in from the outdoor lifestyle. Our aim is to reach out to them on their own terms and begin the first stage where therapy can happen and their dignity restored. They’ll need some confidence building to begin the hard work of getting back on their feet.”
Cooperative and supportive, all three leaders are deeply committed to resolving the complex of homelessness issues. However, their services are also distinguishable and they even, to some extent, work with different populations.
Hospitality House serves clients from Nevada County and provides an 11-bed Outreach Dormitory for folks who may be struggling with substance abuse, and a 54-bed Onward Dormitory for folks maintaining their sobriety and meeting their case management goals–all who are potential candidates for housing. It also offers a 4-bed Recuperative Care Dormitory for individuals who are recovering from medical ailments and who have recently been discharged from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital with no home to go to for recuperation. Hospitality House is also strongly focused on creating permanent supportive housing through partnership with Nevada County and the Regional Housing Authority.
The Booth Family Center offers shelter for homeless families, as well as case management, budgeting and parenting classes, and a wide variety of educational opportunities for kids and parents alike. Most of its clients are referred via another agency, including Hospitality House.
Sierra Roots provides weekly meals, a cold weather shelter, and a carefully constructed program designed to train volunteers both what it’s like to be homeless, and how to best advocate for them with other agencies. The majority of their participants are long term, chronically homeless folks from the Nevada City area. “We want to be able to offer them a safe haven that’s open all winter long,” Cogley said. “Currently, we might have to open up the emergency shelter and close it down again twice in the same week depending on the latest weather forecasts. We’re working to improve that situation.”
All three of the programs also offer emergency relief, case management, referrals for addiction treatment, job placement assistance, counseling, and a host of other services.
And all three of these dynamic leaders are committed to collaboration among themselves, and between the many other nonprofit and county resources available.
“We can each provide assistance to one another,” Winters said, “share our particular strengths and philosophies.” Partnerships can occur with donor networks, grants, volunteer appreciations, and many other areas of common concern.
“We’re all working on behalf of the same cause,” Baglietto said. “The elimination of homelessness in our community.”