Brendan Phillips, Nevada County’s housing resource manager, looks to solve problems
August 20, 2017
The job of Nevada County’s housing resource manager was a natural fit for Brendan Phillips.
His father, folk singer and homeless advocate Utah Phillips, helped found Hospitality House, the Grass Valley homeless shelter. His son, Brendan Phillips, has been involved in homelessness issues for 15 years.
Now 40 years old, Phillips finds himself in a newly-created position in a time when homelessness is once again at the forefront of people’s minds.
Many people on social media blame homeless people for what they say is an increase in crime. Others champion the concept of tiny homes and urge government leaders to support the idea.
Given the job of coordinating with multiple agencies and helping bring affordable housing here, Phillips is now at the center of one of the county’s biggest issues.
“How are we going to get there?” Phillips said of achieving his goals. “Well, we have to look at what we have.”
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Phillips’ job has several components. He must work with the myriad nonprofits in the county that focus on homelessness. He must develop plans to bring low income and workforce housing to the area. And he must bring grant money to make his plans reality.
The county isn’t in the development business, but with grant dollars it can construct sewer and roads in an area where a developer otherwise wouldn’t build.
Phillips intends to apply for the No Place Like Home grant, which is geared toward providing funds for such incentives.
According to Phillips, many people in Nevada County live in poverty despite the high median income many enjoy. Add to that problem a lack of available, affordable housing and a low vacancy rate.
“We’re going to continue to grow as a county,” he said. “It’s a bigger question of growth.”
In May, Michael Heggarty, director of the county’s Health & Human Services Agency and Phillips’ boss, wrote a column for The Union about plans to serve Nevada County’s homeless.
“The County is taking concrete steps to make our vision a reality, and is in ongoing discussions with Hospitality House to move forward on a 24/7 multi-services homeless center,” Heggarty wrote.
The Board of Supervisors made homelessness a priority for 2017. It approved and funded the position of a housing resource manager, and Phillips took the job July 31.
For Phillips, 24/7 means a place for people to visit during the day where they access services. Homeless people ultimately would transition from that situation into permanent housing.
“I don’t know how it’ll look and feel once we’re completely through the process,” Phillips said.
Phillips knows, though, that any solution will involve several people and agencies, including law enforcement. Noting that he’s entered the ongoing community discussion about homelessness midstream, Phillips wants to familiarize himself with that conversation before making any large move.
At some point, Phillips will appear before the supervisors with recommendations on how to implement fixes to housing and homelessness and ask for their approval. He said he wants a transparent process leading to that moment.
“There’s so many pieces of that puzzle,” he said.
Graduating from Evergreen State College with a bachelor’s in political economy and Portland State University with a master’s in social work, Phillips calls Nevada County his home. All his jobs since 2007 have been connected to homelessness prevention and outreach.
In one job Phillips provided crisis training to police officers — a duty that brought him understanding about what law enforcement faces.
“They really do understand the issue and recognize it’s got to be all hands on deck,” Phillips said. “This is a very complex issue.”