Officials deny nonprofit’s request to feed Truckee’s homeless, in-need residents

Margaret Moran / Sierra Sun Divine Spark founder and director Thomas Streicher addresses the public and the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District board of directors last Thursday.

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Citing a common concern over location, recreation and park officials have decided to not allow a Nevada City-based nonprofit to use the Community Arts Center once a week to feed homeless and in-need individuals.”I do not believe this facility and that particular use is correct,” said Kristin York, chair of the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District board of directors. “For one, the location – it’s downtown, it’s in a neighborhood, and the school. I think there is incompatibility with Boy Scouts, schools, children’s arts programs and a babysitting class, and whatever other programming.”The TDRPD board voted 5-0 at its meeting last Thursday to overturn its Dec. 13 approval for Divine Spark to use the art center’s kitchen on Wednesdays for a six-month period for its meal program.The center at 10046 Church St. is home to Arts For the Schools, a nonprofit organization that seeks to address the decline in arts programming in schools, and Twin Ridges Home Study Charter School.”It did raise some concern on parents’ part of child safety and the interactions that could possibly happen utilizing the building,” said Jessica Fowler, Twin Ridges Truckee site coordinator, at the meeting. “We are there Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Primarily, our children activities are Fridays, but I hold office hours Wednesdays, Thursdays in addition to Fridays, so there are parents and children coming and going from the building periodically.”Truckee resident and meal service volunteer Nina Ski said she doesn’t have a problem with the Community Arts Center being the home for Divine Spark’s proposed meal program.”I don’t think the downtown location is a bad spot,” she said. “We do Project MANA down there. … I don’t see it causing a problem there – I don’t know why it would now.”Currently, two meal services operate out of the Community Arts Center: Project MANA food distribution from 3 to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Stone Soup Community Soup Night from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sundays from Jan. 27 to March 24.At Thursday’s meeting, Divine Spark founder and director Thomas Streicher said his organization has experience in working with the clientele meal service programs draw.”Most of these people are low-poverty people, some are elderly, some are handicap, probably 40 percent of them are homeless,” he said. “We consider ourselves professionals at working with this kind of population.”

“My concerns are the ability to implement it and implement it well,” said board vice chair Erin Casey. “That’s important. … And clearly from some of these other comments from Nevada City, the implementation piece is also problematic.”TDRPD Recreation Superintendent Dan O’Gorman previously reached out to Nevada City officials, receiving comments from city Police Chief Jim Wickham, who said patrons came early, lingered around, left a mess and attracted homeless from outside the area. Similar feedback was received from Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency Director Jeffrey Brown and Nevada City Manager David Brennan.This week, Streicher accused Nevada City officials of making false statements in their testimonies, according to a story Tuesday in The Union, the Sun’s sister paper in Nevada City. Yet, at last Thursday’s meeting, he acknowledged that Divine Spark’s programs aren’t perfect.”Our programs aren’t 100 percent; there are some problems,” Streicher said. “We have to look at those problems, but the main thing is we’re here to serve your poor.”Jack Ahern, coordinator of the Food and Resource Support Center in Truckee, which offers breakfast on Tuesdays and a hot lunch on Thursdays as well other basic needs, said he supports the idea of Divine Spark providing assistance in the area.”There is a need for this,” he said. “(Last Thursday) we had five guests come in for lunch. … It’s wintertime, and many of the people we serve in the summer have gone off because it’s winter.”But we do have people living in pretty miserable conditions who could use a hot meal and some TLC once or twice a week.”York brought up the concern of attracting more homeless to an area that experiences temperatures in the negatives with no homeless shelter – and the issue of whether catering to the homeless fits the district’s mission.”The mission of this board is to enrich the lives of all of community by providing a wide variety of quality parks, facilities, programs and recreational opportunities,” she said. “That’s a very important thing to remember because this board tends to go beyond that mission, and we get in trouble. I am not in favor of doing that in this case.” Director Kevin Murphy said he sees this as town issue.”Let the town of Truckee really get their arms around this, put a program in place and then partner with the district for location,” he said. “Because the one thing we don’t want to do in my experience is create a problem and then deal with the backlash.”

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