Tens of thousands of us in Northern California, and maybe even  more, live in insecure housing limbo. Nobody knows how many of us there really are because it’s not in our best interest to self-report.

We live in illegal, “desperation housing” – trailers, yurts, RVs, tiny homes, shipping containers, sheds, chicken coops, abandoned cabins, basements, attics, garages, or basically wherever we can find shelter from the storm. Let’s call them AltDUs (alternative dwelling units).

Everybody has a right to seek shelter
Photo by Tom Durkin

We’re not homeless, but we’re not “housed” either, according to U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards, much less county zoning codes.

We’re just one complaint away from being forced to relocate to anywhere-but-here by county code compliance (aka code enforcement).

We’re here because there is no legal, affordable housing. Free enterprise and government have failed to provide housing for us. But upon pain of fines and even property liens, our landlords are forced to evict us if the code cops receive a complaint.

It doesn’t even have to be a legitimate complaint to result in an involuntary household disruption.

Where are we supposed to go when it’s a known fact there is no place to go?

Stay put

It’s not a crime for a human being to seek shelter from the storm. The crime is that our society has abdicated its responsibility to provide housing for its citizens.

Making us relocate does not solve the problem. It just moves it, often making it a bigger problem if we are forced into homelessness.

We at the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project (SR/NPTGP) believe people in AltDUs should be permitted to stay where they are. It’s not their fault there is no housing. That’s on the city or county in whose jurisdiction they reside.

If tenants and their private property landlords are making good-faith efforts to live responsibly, the code-enforcing agency must work with them to make sure the AltDUs are safe for the tenants.

Moreover, that agency should share or bear the cost of health-and-safety compliance. It’s the least they could do.

Heartfelt advocacy

Sierra Roots is a from-the-heart nonprofit that has been serving homeless and unhoused people in Nevada County since 2011.

The newly formed  Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project is a social justice program to advocate for the rights of people and property owners. It’s all about emergency housing for the people by the people.

Funded by a grant from the Upstate California Creative Corps, the SR/NPTGP is an ambitious public awareness campaign to persuade city and county government in Nevada County and throughout the upstate region to expand safe housing options during this homeless/housing crisis.

Our hope is to engage other rural cities and counties to form a united consortium to implement an aggressive emergency response to this human catastrophe.

The idea is to take advantage of existing structures that are habitable or can be made habitable almost immediately. If affordable housing can’t be built fast enough, the alternative is to redefine what housing is.

 This will mean changes and special exceptions to rules, laws and regulations ranging from local zoning codes to the California Environmental Quality Act.

It won’t be easy, but it is necessary because the  Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project believes everybody has a right to shelter and everybody has a right to offer it.

In the coming weeks and months, we will be reporting on this and other homeless/housing issues.

Tom Durkin lives in an unpermitted fifth-wheel trailer at an undisclosed location in Nevada County, He is the creative director of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project, which is funded by a grant from the Upstate California Creative Corps. For more information, visit project.sierra-roots.org or write tomdurkin@sierra-roots.org.