November 10, 2023 – I gave the absolute worst speech of my life to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors in January 2019. It was pathetic, embarrassing, humbling.
I asked the board to consider making it legal to live in trailers and RVs because there is no affordable housing. Then I went to the back of the chambers and fainted. It was not a good first impression.
But it was and still is a good idea. Mitigating the homeless/housing crisis by legalizing what people like me are doing anyway is long overdue. We live in illegal, “desperation housing,” fearful that one complaint, no matter how mean-spirited and baseless, could get us evicted.
We can’t let people know where we live. We can’t have visitors. We don’t have addresses. I’m registered to vote by stating I live near the intersection of two county roads. I don’t turn into my driveway if I think I’m being followed.
Paranoia strikes deep.
Showdown with County
After about four years of criticizing the county for not helping homeless and houseless people more, I decided to find out what the county is really doing about these issues.
What I found out surprised me. The Continuum of Care/Nevada County Joint Homelessness Action Plan is a sophisticated instrument to track and direct lost people to the services they need. The county is doing more than I realized for homeless people.
But I also found egregious county behavior when I learned that Code Compliance was forcing the needless relocation of four families with children from their homes because of zoning code violations based on a meritless, malicious complaint.
Code Compliance claimed it was just enforcing the law, but was the law serving the public good? In my opinion, no.
My investigation revealed Code Compliance didn’t keep adequate records, much less follow their own policies as outlined in the department’s Code Compliance Policy & Procedure Guidelines.
But that’s just blood on the floor now.
A meeting of minds
Did anything good come out of it? Well, in the year since, I’ve became the creative director of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project (SR/NPTGP). Funded by a grant from the Upstate California Creative Corps, we are advocating for safe camps for chronically homeless people and alternative housing for housing-ready people.
And thanks to the support Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Ed Scofield and County CEO Alison Lehman, I got what I asked for in 2019. On Oct. 31, SR/NPTGP was “in the room” inflicting a PowerPoint presentation on the directors of Community Development, Housing, Code Compliance, Economic Development, Environmental Health, Building, a senior planner expert on accessory dwelling units and the Assistant County CEO.
After all this time, the county is devoting valuable staff time to explore the idea of writing emergency housing regulations that would permit alternative housing for people who can’t find or afford legal housing.
This is just the beginning. We won’t know for another two or three years whether we actually can write proposed emergency housing regs. We must recruit other counties to join us in a consortium. Then we must petition to the state to let us implement a model rural housing policy that will get more unhoused but housing-ready people safely inside.
As Supervisor Scofield noted in his district newsletter this month, this may or may not happen For now, however, the good news is that we are in the process of taking a bold initiative for Nevada County to assume the lead in mitigating the homeless/housing crisis by redefining what housing is.
While I am delighted to report the very real progress SR/NPTGP is finally making with the county, it’s not because of my public speaking prowess. It’s in spite of the fact that I am still a terrible public speaker, a Toastmasters dropout.
I testified Tuesday in support of the county working with Sierra Roots to open the cold weather shelter this year. Stumbling through my words, I said I am one of those people who is always saying the county could do more, but I was taking that opportunity to thank them for all that they are doing.
The supervisors are justifiably proud of their leadership role in progressively addressing homelessness and housing, and to their credit, they know they must do more.
I genuinely believe all the supervisors and most county staff are good people who sincerely want to do well by our homeless and unhoused citizens. Instead of criticizing the county for what they’re not doing, let’s give them credit for all that they are doing.
And let’s give them the public support they need to do more.
Tom Durkin is creative director of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project, which is funded by a grant from the Upstate California Creative CorpsHe may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.project.sierra-roots.org.