Homeless surveyed in effort to quantify need for services in Nevada County | SierraSun.com

Homeless surveyed in effort to quantify need for services in Nevada County

Judy Wheeler had been living in her car for four months. Last week, she began staying at Hospitality House, an emergency shelter in Grass Valley. "I knew I was going to be living in my car for a while and I didn't know how I was going to do it," Wheeler said while getting a warm meal during the homless count event last week.

Mike Silva did it for the incentives.

“If it wasn’t for that I don’t know why anybody would,” he said.

Silva, who stays at Grass Valley’s emergency homeless shelter, Hospitality House, joined over 100 local homeless people who took a survey this month in exchange for a gift card.

The survey, commissioned by the Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras, was an effort to tally the number of homeless people living in the area and gather data that helps local service providers assess the community’s needs.

The “point-in-time” count, conducted annually in Nevada County, included an event Thursday, Jan. 25, at the Grass Valley Salvation Army where local homeless people were offered free food and clothing as well as flu shots, legal help and other services.

Surveyors — both at the event and on the streets — asked participants questions including how long they lived in Nevada County prior to experiencing homelessness, the reasons they stay in the area, their genders, ages, mental health conditions and more.

A man who gave his name as Kelly C. said he took the survey because he knows it’s valuable to the community.

“It helps us get the proper help and funding we need,” he said.

Kelly has been staying at Hospitality House for three months. He’s disheartened by what he calls the “prohibitive” cost of housing in the area.

“They price us out of places to live,” he said.


Brendan Phillips, Nevada County’s housing resources manager, says county staff is prioritizing a “housing first” approach to addressing homelessness.

That approach involves immediately finding permanent housing for chronically homeless people and then providing them services to ensure a successful transition out of homelessness.

“Evidence shows that giving people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to be stable in a home, and to have a place with a door to go into, gives them a much higher chance of success,” Phillips said. “That’s a much better place to work with them rather than when they’re on the street.”

But the housing-first approach has its challenges, Phillips said. The most notable is finding landlords willing to rent to homeless people.

Some landlords, Phillips said, are concerned about renting to homeless people who aren’t from Nevada County and have come to the area seeking services.

But that concern is largely based on false rumors that the “point-in-time” counts helps dispel, he explained.

During last year’s count, Phillips said, about 85 percent of survey participants reported they’d come to Nevada County because they had family or close connections in the area. About 40 percent said they were raised in the area, according to Phillips.

Having that data on hand allows service providers to show that many homeless people seeking help are from the community, Phillips said. It gives service providers an upper hand in finding permanent housing for homeless clients, he said.

It also provides a better idea of how many chronically homeless people live in the area, and what kinds of services are needed to support people transitioning into permanent housing, Phillips said.


Those who weren’t counted Thursday but were homeless that night have until Sunday to be included in the survey.

Local organizations including Hospitality House and Interfaith Food Bank may ask people seeking services if they were included in the count. If not, those organizations can administer surveys.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.

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