Hospitality House addresses snarkish comment in “Other Voices” on homelessness

An “Other Voices” by Greg Zaller in this weekend’s The Union included a snarkish comment about Hospitality House. “Hospitality House, our local overnight shelter, was invited to attend the tour but did not return our calls.”

Here is the Hospitality House’s response:

From Scott Thurmond, Interim Executive Director for Hospitality House:

“We were part of the email progression regarding the trip to COTS. Our lead shelter staff person planned to attend but was sick on day of trip. We are aware of the conclusions of the trip and have been communicating with attendees regarding potential next steps. As we have historically been, Hospitality House is dedicated to continuing to find solutions to serve the homeless in our county while sheltering 54 men, women and children on a daily basis.”

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 Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

4 thoughts on “Hospitality House addresses snarkish comment in “Other Voices” on homelessness”

  1. I apologize if my comment about HH not returning calls appeared snarkish. I felt it was appropriate to indicate that HH was invited so it didn’t appear they were being excluded. HH was also invited to the prior tour in Placer County.

    My intention in the guest column was to report on an important event and to expand the topic of how to effectively address homelessness.

  2. Greg,

    “Apparentely snarkish?” It was snarkish. Notice the difference between what you wrote and what Hospitality Houses’ executive wrote:

    A. Greg Zaller: “Hospitality House, our local overnight shelter, was invited to attend the tour but did not return our calls.”

    B. Scott Thurmond, interim executive director of Hospitality House: “We were part of the email progression regarding the trip to COTS. Our lead shelter staff person planned to attend but was sick on day of trip. We are aware of the conclusions of the trip and have been communicating with attendees regarding potential next steps. As we have historically been, Hospitality House is dedicated to continuing to find solutions to serve the homeless in our county while sheltering 54 men, women and children on a daily basis.”

    I hope Scott sets the record straight with The Union in a letter to the editor.

    There seems to be some confusion here too. Hospitality House has been the leader, not a follower, when it comes to this issue. It is inconceivable that they would be excluded from any such initiative.

    And I’m hoping that next time, the “report” on an important event like this comes from BOS Board Chair Dan Miller, the Rood Center or the cities (which ultimately will be asked to fund a 24/7 homeless shelter).

    And shame on The Union for not vetting “Other Voices,” (A snarkish comment like that should have raised a red flag to the editor). It is common for newspapers to vet the content they run in their newspaper. Outlets such as the New York Times have strict policies about this.

  3. It also would behoove the supervisors such as Dan Miller (who drove this group to the 24/7 homeless shelter) as well as the Rood Center to do an “exit interview” with Cindy Maple of Hospitality House, and find out what prompted her to leave the community, at least from the professional perspective? What is the community culture? Do they do “exit interviews” anymore?

  4. BTW, here is the response from Cindy Maple, former executive director of Hospitality House, posted on Facebook:

    When Hospitality House was awarded a million dollar grant, we still needed to raise $700,000 for renovations. Area contractors donated $200,000 in labor leaving HH to raise the additional $500,000. The building sat empty for a year while we raised this money. All of it was raised from community donations, and HH is still paying on private loans. HH did not receive one single time of local government money for this project though I asked, several times.

    City Council member Lisa Swarthout was the only elected official to show up to meetings when we needed help dealing with the State because they didn’t want to release our grant funds unless our construction was done with prevailing wages, which would have bumped the cost up another quarter million dollars.

    Assistant County CEO Alison Lehman, an advocate of HH, connected us to the county lobbyist for help. We fought them on this and won. They have since abolished this requirement for shelters. This is just one of many battles we fought for this building.

    By the time we moved in to Utah’s Place in Dec 2013, the same week two major grants were due that would help us run our shelter and housing programs, I was sick and exhausted beyond what I’ve ever been in my life. I won’t even touch on what this did to our board president Joanna Robinson because that’s not my story to tell, but it was just as brutal.

    In spite of the exhaustion, I still showed up because we had a program to develop and a new shelter to run. I had a vision of all we could do to help people that included a culinary job training program and other healing workshops. These would all happen during the time the shelter was closed and would give people the tools they needed to end their homelessness.

    When the 24/7 model recommend by homeless consultant Marbut was discussed, I deeply opposed it for HH because we needed the space for these workshops. I also believe we need to empower people to end their homelessness. And our program was/is doing this. HH has had success after success with people who have graduated from our job training and housing programs.

    So to you Mr. Zaller I say this – HH is at the table, more so, we were the first ones there. Your constant digs at HH in order to promote your own beliefs don’t help promote working together.

    It was HH that called the first meeting to try and bring all the groups together last year and during this meeting I urged everyone to join our local Homeless Continuum of Care. Years prior to this, it was HH (myself and board president Don Lee) that met with Placer County officials to learn how to start and operate a CoC.

    We didn’t know then that State regulations would change and that a CoC would actually be a requirement for homeless agencies competing for funds. We didn’t know then how much money we (county and homeless agencies) would bring into this county through our CoC. At the time, we just want a collaboration of county, nonprofits and community.

    Following is an excerpt from our current County Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness-

    “ – As a result of the homeless count and the surveys collected, Hospitality House challenged our community, “to actively build a coalition among a broad spectrum of individuals, congregations and community organizations. Through sharing knowledge and experience and working cooperatively with service providers, we can effectively address the problems of homelessness. Through this shared community participation, organizations can learn to better identify the causes of homelessness and advocate for solutions.”

    We all agree more is needed. We all agree services for psychiatric care and addiction are sorely lacking. We all agree the lack of affordable housing and living wage jobs are at the root of our homeless crisis. I’m delighted to see people at the table working to solve this. But as a person who was one of the first on the front lines of this crisis in Nevada County, I have something to say about what I read today.

    Dan Miller thinks a 24/7 shelter is needed. I say to you Mr. Miller, where were you when we were trying to raise an additional half million dollars? I’m guessing you weren’t at home crying yourself to sleep at night because you were utterly depleted from trying to raise this money while also operating the only emergency shelter in Nevada County. Where was our local government then?

    Okay, so fast forward. They (government) are at the table now. Great. Perhaps that’s because they are under fire at the moment because homelessness is such a hot topic, but at least they are there. But here’s my take – They (local government) are looking for something they can put their stamp on so it looks like they are finally doing something. Dan Miller thinks a 24/7 shelter is needed. Maybe so, but it will not solve the problem of homelessness for people. Only services and housing will do this. Only a living wage will do this.

    HH is already doing their part with great success.

    If Dan Miller thinks a 24/7 shelter is needed, by all means, fund one like Placer County did. We certainly still have enough unsheltered homeless people to fill another shelter (several shelters actually because there are easily two hundred plus unsheltered homeless people in Nevada County). And as an interesting side note to this-Dan Miller attended and spoke at the HH open house as the mayor of Grass Valley. Since opening he has not visited or toured Utah’s Place (at least not during my time which was up until June of this year).

    HH is only 54 beds. HH can’t fix the homeless crisis in Nevada County.

    Adding hours won’t enhance the work being done nor is the shelter capable of taking more people off the streets. So if this statement was intended to be directed at HH (and I’ve heard this is so), and how HH should change to adopt this model, consider this – HH has helped house hundreds of homeless people over the years through a grant HH applied for from the State in a competitive process (hundreds of thousands of dollars was brought to Nevada County to help house our homeless because of the efforts of HH).

    The culinary job training program is giving people skills they need to join the workforce and now the Bread and Roses Thrift Store is doing the same with its job training program. Both with great success.

    I’m not sure how a 24/7 program at HH would improve on that.

    This model would deprive the HH program of the space needed for life skills and job training workshops. Seems to me, a 54 bed shelter that’s already doing great work should not come under fire, ever.

    From what I’ve heard, the county wants to take the easy way out by putting this on HH and this is simply not right.

    In response to HH not attending the COTs tour, there is no fluff at HH in terms of staff. Everyone is working every single minute and at the moment with only an interim Director. They are simply too busy doing the work.

    The COTS program in Sonoma County (a county with a homeless task force and one that provides funding for shelters) is a great program and I’ve been following it for years. HH has a similar program, similar success, only it isn’t a 24/7 model.

    If you look at the data- in 2015 Sonoma County counted 3107 homeless people. Of this number, 20% were in an emergency shelter, 13 % were in emergency housing, and a whopping 67% were unsheltered (2070 of this population). In 2009 Sonoma counted 3247 homeless people and in 2015 the count was 3107.

    I’m not sharing this to say COTS and other programs in this county aren’t doing amazing work. They are changing lives. I’m sharing this because the numbers of homeless people are dramatic in spite of all this good work. We are not seeing the numbers decrease because we don’t have resources and housing for people. And many homeless people fortunate enough to find housing need long term case management to help them retain it.

    Of the 3107 homeless people Sonoma County counted in 2015, 67% said they were homeless because they couldn’t afford rent, 57% said they had no job or income, 23% said they didn’t have money for move-in costs. 44% said they had a disabling condition, the highest percentage of this stating they had a psychiatric disorder or an addiction.

    How does a 24/7 shelter model help these folks? What will help?

    We need to keep their feet to the fire (local government). If they want to provide funding to help the current programs at HH with no strings attached like Placer County has done for The Gathering Inn, that would be pretty great, otherwise, it’s a day late and 500,000 dollars short.

    In my opinion, the best thing elected officials could do right now is either fund a second shelter that would operate 24/7 or take that money and fund a low-income tiny house village. A strategic plan to develop more low-income housing is also needed.

    Don’t be fooled into thinking pushing HH into becoming a 24/7 model will fix anything. It would only hurt a successful program.

    I no longer work for Hospitality House so these are just my opinions. I left because there was so much controversy and criticism my spirit finally broke and I have still not recovered emotionally or physically from this. For years I remained fairly silent about the lack of support from local government because for me this wasn’t a political issue, it was always a human issue, and I always hoped they would eventually join us in the fight to end homelessness.

    I do want to acknowledge that the county does allow a worker to visit the shelter every week for public assistance applications, and they have provided HH with an onsite therapist 20 hours a week through MHSA funds (thanks solely to Alison Lehman following through on this).

    But while this is great for our guests, and so appreciated, money is also needed. Money keeps the lights on. If local government is indeed at the table (and I’m sure this is the case for Lisa, supervisor Heidi Hall and Alison Lehman), I hope you will help lead the fight against homelessness in the direction it needs to go – housing and services.

    A final note:
    Any person can go to county and city websites and read the local housing element which is the document where each municipality addresses homelessness and affordable housing and what they are doing about it. Read them if you want to know for yourself what local government is doing.
    …. Read them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s