Gov. Gavin Newsom begins tour of homelessness services in Grass Valley (VIDEOS)
Special to the Sierra Sun
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday kicked off his state-wide homelessness tour in Grass Valley, speaking to local officials, clients and volunteers while touring housing resource centers in the area, which the governor lauded as examples of the community coming together.
“The partnerships,” Newsom said of what he hopes other communities will take from Nevada County. “No one has an ‘R’, no one has a ‘D.’ You find those conditions, that’s special. That’s what we want to see everywhere in the state.”
Newsom was joined by state Assemblywoman Megan Dahle, Nevada County Supervisor Heidi Hall and Grass Valley Mayor Lisa Swarthout, who Newsom applauded for having a plan that has been bought-in by different constituencies and across government entities.
“They have county supervisors here, city administrators here, you have Assembly members here,” Newsom said, gesturing his hands together. “They have a plan.”
Newsom said he wanted his visit to Grass Valley to highlight homelessness as a state-wide problem — not just a coastal or urban one — and the innovative strategies communities are taking to address it.
“Having grown up nearby and spending as much time as I have here in the Grass Valley area, (the homelessness problem) was surprising,” Newsom said. “It took decades to get to this point and I’m not naive that it’s going to take some time to turn this around.”
Newsom first toured Spirit Peer Empowerment Center, a free, accepting peer support center open to people facing mental health challenges. Newsom spoke to Housing Outreach and Medical Engagement registered nurse Casey Davey and Spirit Center volunteers and clients Sean Schuetz and Victor Moore before delivering a press conference at Hospitality House.
The HOME team was launched last June by the county after receiving funding based on the program’s innovative design. The program uses peer outreach and a focus on physical health engagement as a less stigmatized gateway to mental health and other wrap-around services. The peer support and low barrier services are common components that Newsom highlighted as part of Hospitality House, Spirit Center and the HOME team.
“My hope is that this becomes a repeatable model,” Schuetz said. “If we can do it in a small town with limited resources, hopefully it can be done elsewhere on a larger scale. If we can create a repeatable model, that’s the holy grail.”
Schuetz, who uses the homelessness services himself, said when he first entered the program, he was reluctant to believe it would help. He soon became convinced enough to volunteer his time helping others.
“Simply put, it worked,” Schuetz said. “When they first met me I didn’t want to tell anyone anything other than my name and I wasn’t a huge fan of therapy or anything of that nature, but they got me to start talking and were a tremendous help to me personally. That’s all the proof I needed.”
Schuetz now provides peer counseling and helps administer the creative writing and men’s support groups at the center.
According to Behavior Health Director Phebe Bell, despite being just over six months into a five-year pilot program, the HOME team has already proven successful, with 64 patients receiving mental health assessment and 54 receiving substance abuse assessments, 47 of whom moved into residential treatment programs. The team focuses on the chronically homeless who are often the hardest to provide service to after years of adapting to living unsheltered.
“Sometimes it takes 20 contacts, 30 contacts with someone before the trust is there enough for them to open up about their real troubles, which is how you hook into someone wanting to engage in services,” Bell said. “We are very proud of the innovative programs and services we have here in Nevada County, including the HOME Team, and it is exciting to be able to share those successes with the governor and his team.”
Bell echoed Newsom’s sentiment that the collaboration between agencies and organizations has led to the success of Nevada County’s forward-thinking programs.
“It’s a real partnership,” Bell said. “Because of all that working together, people are more willing to give a try to new strategies.”
John Orona is a reporter with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. To contact him, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.