Fighting over cold shelters

Living here can be like a broken record: We like to fight a lot, especially for such a small, supposedly easy-going place. We like to fight over the same issues.

And the people doing the fighting always say the same thing. The personalities involved usually are the same too — year after year.

Finding a cold shelter in Nevada City is the latest example. My issue as a citizen and taxpayer is real simple: When I get up at 5 a.m. and go downstairs to work in my office, I fire up the pellet stove to warm up the room.

When I look out the window and see my truck and the yard covered with ice, I’d like to know that I live in a city where people are working together to make sure our homeless have a warm place to sleep when it’s freezing outside.

I’d like to know that the hurdles — ranging from NIMBY’ism to a failure to execute on a plan for cold shelter (beds, insurance and so on) — don’t get in the way.

It should be pretty simple — and easily attainable — to ensure that homeless people don’t freeze to death in a town of 3,000 people. But we always seem to make it pretty complicated. It’s unfortunate, to say the least.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

37 thoughts on “Fighting over cold shelters”

  1. Well the Armory is for sale. If some non-profit could actually raise the funds to buy and retrofit it, it would make a excellent spot for not only a warming shelter but for meal distribution as well. The city would just have to kick in funds for sidewalk improvements. Just a thought, I know it has been thrown around before but now the armory is actually up for sale.

  2. Who owns the Armory? If it is the city then we own it and then it should be used for this purpose. I know too simple a solution that there must be rules and regulations that do not allow kindness to trump. This is just too cold for the homeless.

  3. Next year a sidewalk is planned from the Ridge intersection to the Banner Mountain intersection.
    The building is being auctioned on Dec 6 th.

    1. Reinette Senum put some sleeping mats on hold at K-Mart and Big 5. We bought six of them. I also left a message with Dave Brennan an NC Hall requesting that NC help facilitate a place for people if needed. HH is on it too, of course. Have a safe weekend!

  4. Well, my son Max & I just went across the street to the Vet’s Warming Center. There was about 10 people in with supervisors and cooked food. I would call it a success.

    I’ve never been against the Warming Center concept for this location. “Mario” introduced himself to me for the 29th+ time and thanked me (for nothing. I went to NU with “Mario”).

    I have very strong opinions about this and I’m saddened it is so divisive in our town. With that being said, every address has merit. To suppose a position as “above another”, in this matter, is not right and not fair.

  5. As I sit in my home, well qualified in both inside & out survival, I find it an absolute shame and I remain horified with our city government. How comfortable it must be to done blinders and turn the other cheek. Shame on you Nevada City,

  6. I tend to favor simple solutions. Throughout the year donations for a motel voucher fund could be gathered so that when the cold weather hits, homeless people could be placed in a warm room with a shower, TV and real bed. If the motel owners would provide a lower rate for these rare winter occasions that would also be a charitable kindness.

  7. Judith,
    I know Hospitality House has a very limited version of what you just described. We need a consistent spot so those who need the services can find them easily.

  8. Everyone,
    We need a consistent spot so those who need the services can find them easily. We are talking about people who are sleep deprived, malnourished, cold, stressed out, and sometimes mentally/ emotionally unbalanced/ imbalanced. 30 minutes could mean the difference between life and death when the conditions get like they have been the last couple days and the next few days to come. I lived outdoors at 9,000 feet in the winters but was healthy, well rested, well fed, by choice, and I know most people would not handle it very well in mild weather and would really struggle in severe weather.

    As a community we need to do much better. If anyone wants to help with the cause please contact Hospitality House, Janice O’Brien, Reinette Senum, or Salvation Army in Grass Valley.

  9. No Ben, we don’t. We need an able force with the capacity to muster for the occasion of dire necessity. We do not need another bureaucracy.

    Hospitality House has grown a lot since its inception and earned its place in the service world. While it is still just getting to its feet, why not let it expand out its programs to fill crisis needs, perhaps leading to rehabilitation and maybe even cooperating with CORE? It seems as hand in glove fit. HH has the most experience and best track record after all.

    There is a fine line between helping and enabling Ben. Sorry about that, but the only thing this hungry little town has going for it is its charm factor. Vomit on the streets, vagrants drinking or sleeping it off in doorways, confrontational panhandling and threats. That element could eventually kill off its host and that’s just not smart or functional. This is a gritty little burg, I’ll give it that, and not one to be letting the cart lead the horse. So let’s be a little more creative with a lot less flourish.

    BTW, it’s 2 degrees here in Bend, Oregon, with a projected high of 8 degrees, and a overnight low of 12 below. They have shelters here, but the homeless population have undertaken their annual migration to the southern climates for the winter.

    1. Judith, it seems you are making the case for an episodic response to the homeless issue as opposed to a the establishment of a permanent shelter. Is that the case?

      1. There is a permanent shelter in Hospitality House.
        Oh, I forgot, they have rules.
        County social services also provides vouchers for lodging as well as other resources.

        Episodic response? How many episodes of freezing weather do we get throughout the 365 day year? Spare me the semantics Steve, call it efficient use of local resources based on immediate crisis need.
        Anything else is just a waste of money and time.
        Sorry, no dandy little bureaucracy or executive directorship comes with that model. Just work.

  10. Judith,
    What is enabling about having a consistent service in severe weather for those who need it? You are conflating many issues here. You are making generalizations that don’t help the situation. At least 500 homeless in Nevada County, would you say there are 50 consistent vomiting vagrants aggressively panhandling? My guess that number is extremely high but even so that would be 10% of the counted homeless in Nevada County. It is not fair to use broad brushes to stereotype whole segments of the population.

  11. You obviously don’t spend much time in downtown Nevada City.
    And yeah okay, I’m not fair, and I don’t help.

  12. Ben, the number of homeless in this county has reached over 1,000 with the fastest growing number being women and children…. most not drunk and vomiting from what I know of and most of whom do everything in their power to hide their homelessness out of shame and embarrassment. And while a voucher for a hotel sounds lovely, Judith, we don’t have that many room available and most of the homeless we serve would not have the capacity to utilize such a space without serious supervision. It’s unrealistic.

  13. Judith,
    I never said you didn’t help I said it was unfair to broad brush a entire segment of the population for 10% or less behavior. I live just outside of Nevada City and am there almost daily.

  14. Reinette,
    I was just going off of the last count we held in 2013. In my utopian vision all the vacant houses would be used to house the homeless, they would be grateful and amazing stewards of the properties. I find it heartbreaking that we have vacant homes while people are freezing to death in our community.

  15. A dismaying problem with deep and varied roots. Can remember winters walking the streets of NYC and seeing these bodies bundled up in other peoples throwaways, sleeping on the subway grates, being warmed by the steam. And not too far away, Trump Tower throws out it’s chest with braggadocio, a towering example of indifference.

    But beware. A friend of mine who recently died had a heart as big as Trump’s ego and periodically let homeless people live in her house, or garage. It usually ended badly, with one dude actually knocking her down. He’d been expelled from the Marines and spent time in a mental hospital. He and I almost came to blows a few times when he began ranting and raving at my friend who was disabled and 19 years older than me. And he was about the size of that loud mouth dragon whose rantings bring back memories of that twisted soul.

    1. That is exactly why these Warming Center need some trained personnel to augment the volunteers. When I was growing we were taught never to hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers unless you know the person. Nothing has changed in the World. One bad experience could be your last .

  16. Ed,
    I know many stories like you shared with one difference. It was a rent paying roommate or a boyfriend/ girlfriend. Homeless people are no different than any other group in our society. There are those who have drug issues, 99% of people who I have known are addicts that live in homes. Violent my guess that number 99% applies again to those who are serving sentences for violent acts came from people living in homes. Public over drinking, a person just needs to pop into Mine Shaft or McGee’s on any given night.

    I am not saying those who are homeless are perfect but the categorizing these specific behaviors just shows they are just like the rest of us with one difference, they do not have the luxury of hiding such behaviors in their own living space.

    I pick up hitchhikers all the time and hitchhiked all across the western US for over a decade. The total number has to be in the hundreds and never have I had a “bad” experience. I have met some of the nicest most unlikely people hitchhiking.

    A man in a diesel pick up from Texas picked me up one time. I was coming back from Moab region on a backpacking excursion. Those who can in Texas come up to Colorado in the summers to escape the heat. This man in his 50’s was a miner, we had a very interesting hour discussing the pro’s and con’s of mining in a civil manner. When he let me out the Telluride junction near Placerville, he thanked me for the stimulating conversation and I him.

    If someone looks really ragged or a bit off their rocker than pass them by but that number is so rare and even then the chance of them being a danger in anyway way is minimal.

    1. Ben, Hope I didn’t come across as dissing the homeless. Only meant that some caution in who one invites to live in their house is wise. This women was badly and permanently injured in a freak car accident and my relationship to her was that she was the roommate of my stepmother. Living in North Hollywood, it’s not surprising that she was in the “business,” and worked in casting and for her close friend, the actor of bygone years, Earl Holliman. He was worried about this one guy, calling him an outright lunatic. That he was and the potential for violence was high, as he showed when knocked her down onto her garage’s cement floor. I was visiting her when that guy started screaming at her and we were nose to nose. As I know you know, in angry encounters with a high probability of resulting violence, it’s not how big you are that matters most; it’s what you are prepared to do to win and you do it first.

      I too, hitchhiked across the East constantly and had great conversations with interesting people. And I’d pick up hitchhikers all the time. All that ended in TX when I gave a ride to three people and soon had a knife against my throat. They pounded me bloody, repeatedly told me they were going to kill me, etc., but I escaped. They took my sports car, wallet and car filled with wrapped Christmas presents for a 6,000 mile jaunt through the southwest, then dropped it off all banged up on the roadside of the Dallas ghetto. Then, the sob called me up to say he was sorry — after calling the police and reporting where they left the car — and that I was a nice guy, but they were messed up on drugs. I had two days to go before the insurance company would have had to pay for a new car. Instead, I got the car back and it cost me several thousands of dollars.

      Just advising caution because one never really knows what is inside a stranger’s head.

      Happy holidays,

      1. No worries Ed,
        I didn’t take it that way at all but it was a good segue for me to make my over all point none of the complaints put forward are any different than any other group of human beings. As I said the one difference is those without homes do everything out in the open so we all get to see it play itself out. If I am drinking beer and whiskey within my home listening to Irish music on St Patrick’s day nobody is the wiser because I am in my home. If I am drinking in the park because I have no home to do it in, everybody in the park vicinity gets to see it.

  17. We are all strangers because we haven’t met yet. Reach out and meet people before you judge them and the reward will dwarf the negative.

    Tom Waits and Bette Midler
    I Never Talk To Strangers

    1. Ben, good point. Have probably said this before, but my memory isn’t what it used to be. From age seven to sixteen I lived in a 15 room house with five acres in the Town of Rye, N.Y. — renamed Blind Brook. As the years passed, the violence, illnesses, alcoholic intake and changes in income which resulted in total financial collapse were all invisible to the outside world. The house sat upon a knoll, far from the street with willow trees’ low hanging, weeping limbs and a copse of forest like growth nourished by a flowing stream blocking the view from the highway. To most passersby, it was just another mansion of some rich people who had it all. But, like the saying goes, a house is not a home.

      My senior year I had my father — mother had finally died a year earlier after her five year ordeal with undiagnosed brain cancer — sign me away so I could finish high school in Port Chester. He did only after after ten days of my attending Greenwich, Ct high school, where in home room I sat next to one of Bert Parks” twin sons. I hated it and transferred out of Greenwich High and our three room apartment, preferring living in the attic — in a semi-finished room — of a widowed lady whom was a co-worker at a large fabric store in the business ghetto area of Port Chester. I paid her $10 a week rent, which included a good diet of home cooked food, a luxury I’d lacked for several years. But I was so glad to graduate with my long time friends and my new friends, a collection of lower income ethnics dominated by the Italians.

      Homelessness can strike unexpectedly at any time. While I was in Vietnam, I stopped hearing from my father after one month. He’d left CBS broke and, I guess, stayed with various friends for as long as he could. When I returned to the USA, I soon became sick with cancer #1 and — after months of physical deterioration — an operation was scheduled at the VA. I had no idea where I would go upon my release. Or even if I’d ever be released. Just in time, the parents of one of my best friends — he had moved back to Texas — flat out told me I was coming to live at their house. By a whisker, homelessness was avoided. It pays to have close friends, because over the years I’ve stayed with several families of friends during my continuing series of illnesses.

      Now, committed to returning East, to the Boston area, where I have family and where a plethora of the finest hospitals in the US are located, — even several doctors say I should go due to the variety of the rare illnesses I have and the overall complexity of my health issues– I’m house hunting via realtor.com. Mostly I look at the towns at the end of the commuter train into Boston. Five thousand square foot, gorgeous Victorians homes are available for less than I paid for my six room house on 1 1/4 acres right south of G.V., but before Alta Sierra. I fantasize about buying one of them and using the extra rooms for shelter for others. Caution is necessary, but I like the idea. And none of my family wants me to buy a house where I have to climb stairs. My sister recently looked at a Victorian, 3,500 sq. ft. which looked like the Adams family’s house, but there were too many unmentioned problems and no hospital in town. I’ll go with the flow, but hope a situation will arise, allowing fulfillment of some of my fantasies.

      Again, I quote the title character of the great movie, Julia: “We can only do today, what we can do today.” Advice that is pertinent to so many social problems. (She was Jewish, rich, and part of the resistance to the Nazis, whom eventually murdered her.)

      BTW, I reveal personal examples because I think they often are more powerful than philosophically based, conjectural replies.

      1. Thanks Ed,
        I to believe the personal examples is the best way to convey a message. I would love to meet with you some time Ed.

        As far as the homeless issue in Nevada City/ Grass Valley goes everything people complain about already have laws on the books addressing the issue. That is why a couple times a year a group of us have to go down to city council meeting fighting back more laws that give more selective enforcement powers to the police. Our suggestion every time is to have the police get out of their $100k vehicles and walk through town getting to know the merchants on a personal level while having a presence. Whether people respect the police or not they generally respect the uniform and its authority enough to not smoke pot in front of them, if drunk get out of sight, laying down on the sidewalk sit up, and so on.

        Now for the warming center in Nevada City. It needs to be organized by the city and consistent in its weather criteria and location so those who might need to use it have somewhere to go. Same goes for Grass Valley. The character of town is how it handles diversity in hard times. Unfortunately for GV and NC the towns are failing the character test. Fortunately the residents of Nevada County are passing the character test but having unfunded and untrained people trying to provide a service that they are not equipped to handle is very poor policy.

        I give a huge thanks to all that participate in short and long term solutions towards the homeless issue that is spiking nationwide not just here in Nevada County.

      2. Ben, that would be great, to get together. I’ve sensed we’ve shared some similar experiences over the years. Traveling, i.e. driving., is a bit more problematic for me than it was 18 months ago and I never know how I’ll be feeling each day, especially when I get up in the middle of the night. But that hitch can be overcome. Any situation you propose I’m sure can be accomplished. I’m home most of the time, reading, unless I’m off to see a doctor, which is often, but my aide usually drives. Meet for coffee — sorry no tea — or whatever. Just say when. I do prefer face to face conversations. Cheers, Ed

  18. Again, there are compassionate forces in place that did mobilize and met a climate crisis challenge. Twelve souls, well sixteen counting the dogs, were spared the lethally low temperatures of Nevada City. Plus, the city threw down for these folks. Many more at Hospitality House, Faith groups and other venues received help from professional staff and volunteers. Let us trust that it’s what they do.
    BTW, Well done to all who helped, nobody died that night.

    Ms. Senum admits to the need for “serious supervision” in a donated motel room, yet fails to grasp the simple concept of privacy as a right for all. In earlier comments she has confessed that her “blood boils” (Ow!) at the thought of all those “empty buildings” sitting around when people are freezing. Do we not all have the right to keep their lives and property private? After all, homeless individuals are granted confidentiality when they work through community programs. Using shame tactics to wring behaviors out of the hard working taxpayers in this community, because one thinks his/her ideas are paramount, is not the most reasonable or effective way to lead.

    Mr. Peritz recounted a sad cautionary tale about altruism and rescue going terribly wrong. Furthermore, Mr. Locke is correct in what he shares about staying safe in an increasingly unsettled community. Mr. Emory refers to utopianism but he may really be espousing something more akin to socialism. “To each according to his need . . . “, turn over your house, or something like that right?

    I could go on but I’ll end with this, in its editorial page the Union recently cited the tragic passing of Mr. William Kelly, from exposure. I wish to correct the Union’s words that he was, “a descendant of a Nevada County native tribe”. The late Mr. Kelly was Nisenan, and he remains Nisenan. The Nisenan were the very first homeless people Nevada County produced, and what happened to this man was a painful reminder of the scars left on his people and lands.
    Please, a little respect.

      1. Another thought – This is a County wide problem and not just Nevada City. Some of you want this warming shelter as long it does not cost you any money. I have not seen any of offer your house/ room or camping site with privileges Nor have I seen any cash put forth, as a taxpayer of Nevada City I really resent that the taxpayers should be footing the bill. Of course we could accomplish help to our own only. This was accomplished during the Depression, you had to be a member of the communities to receive assistances. This had to done in order to have the resources for the local citizens. During the Depression this was becoming a haven for people from all over the country. The governments realized we could not help everyone without exhausting our resources.

    1. Judith,
      I think you were joking about the socialism remark. The comment was saying in this current situation my utopian vision would have those in need of a home matched to homes that were empty. Those who found themselves in that home would be very grateful and great stewards of the property. In utopia our current condition wouldn’t exist.

  19. Niel,
    I am a taxpayer/ home owner of Nevada City and for the record we had a long term Nevada County homeless person stay with us for the month of November. They have lived in the county for 30 plus years. They had on the job injury about 2 1/2 years ago and have been homeless for about 2 years due to the injuries preventing them from being able to get another job. The situation has been corrected finally and their just compensation finally come to be and in December they moved into a home. We met them through HH. I was on the board of HH and volunteer until a major back injury forced me to take a leave of absence. I have donated time, money, energy, and compassion to the cause of homelessness in our county. Next week we have opened up our house for NU basketball tournament and we are hosting some players from other areas.

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