Looking for home: Homelessness a growing issue in North Lake Tahoe
INCLINE VILLAGE — The housing crisis in North Lake Tahoe has hit new levels, with multiple organizations coming together to battle the increasing need to support the area’s homeless population.
“Speaking from a community point of view, and also from a spiritual point of view, your neighbor may not be the person who is residing on your street,” said Rev. Clare Novak with United For Action, a North Tahoe/Truckee coalition of faith-based organizations. “Your neighbor is a person in your community that you’re connected to, and these lines of community connection are so important.”
United For Action collaborates with community partners to support basic needs, like shelter, food, clothing and health. Recently, Novak worked with North Tahoe-Truckee Homeless Services program director Cathie Foley to give a presentation at St. Francis of Assisi in Incline Village about the need to address the issue of homelessness in the area.
Their data was taken from the Tahoe Prosperity Center’s Local Employee Housing Needs and Opportunities report, released in September, and data from the Mountain Housing Council’s Regional Plan. The report outlines the needs for locals in the community, and much of it puts an emphasis on reducing exclusivity and increasing opportunity in the area for all locals.
Many people are unaware that there is a growing homeless population on the North Shore, and some are confused as to how people became homeless in the area.
“The dynamics have definitely changed over the last couple of years,” said Foley.
When they did their point-in-time count in 2021, they were counting people that were mostly chronically homeless and living outside. At that point in time, 29 people in eastern Nevada County were homeless, and 16 in eastern Placer County in the Lake Tahoe area. Washoe County is not included in this count.
“So 45 individuals were counted as homeless over the last couple of years, with COVID and the housing crisis increasing the dynamic,” said Foley.
Those numbers don’t include the amount of people who are sleeping in their cars or what the pair call “couch-surfing” from friends and family members’ homes, and the situation is beginning to fall upon families.
“A lot of people lost their housing during COVID and are really struggling to stay in the area, whether that’s sleeping with other people in their homes for a little while,” said Foley.
She said people choose to stay in the area for a number of reasons, ranging from trying to get into low income housing and waiting it out in the area to working through networks to see if anything becomes available for them. Many families want to keep their children at the schools they currently attend.
But with the affordable housing stack quickly shortening, generations of families that have lived in the basin are being forced out.
Foley could tell things were starting to change when they began the Emergency Warming Center, open from November to April.
“It was really an effort to keep people from dying,” said Foley. “To keep them from sleeping outside in the cold and really meeting those long-term neighbors that continue to live here, even through the winter. Over the last couple of years, that dynamic shifted to really include a much larger number of people.”
This year, Foley and her team are hoping to get a better count on how many people are homeless by also talking with people living in their cars, which can be difficult given the difficulty in connecting with everyone.
The reasons for that can often be because people don’t engage in services available to them.
“I think some people don’t really consider themselves homeless,” said Foley. “They want to scope for all their own resources before that. Secondly, the programs we have available are fairly limited and they’re during the daytime hours. A lot of people are working during that period of time.”
REASONS TO STAY
Many people in the area experiencing homelessness have jobs in the area, which is another reason for staying.
“So for people who don’t see this as a problem, there is somewhat of an invisibility,” said Novak. “There are a lot of working homeless and there are people who’ve been pushed out, so when we try to count, it becomes a dynamic situation. We know a lot of people have been pushed out of their housing because of the sale of long-term rentals or the rent is going up. So where do those folks go?”
United For Action and North Tahoe-Truckee Homeless Services work with local hotels to house people from time to time as well, and the closure of the Tahoe Biltmore Lodge & Casino for renovations and revitalization recently left many people who stayed there intermittently looking for a new place to go.
“The Tahoe Biltmore was one of our motel partners who helped in that way,” said Novak. “So it’s all these different layers of loss. They were a community partner when they could be. When something gets pulled down and replaced, it’s never just bare ground that’s left. It’s lives and stories lost, too. I just want to tip the hat to the Biltmore for what they did with us in the past.”
Currently, there are multiple agencies and organizations that are working to solve this pressing problem and continue finding places for people and families to live, as well as ways to spread awareness about the issue that is creeping into the homes of families who never thought they’d be in this situation. Additionally, the approved plans for the new Biltmore project will be incorporating employee housing, which will hopefully open up avenues in the future for housing when the project is complete.
Novak believes it begins with sharing stories with each other.
“I know you need to be data driven and I hear that all the time, but at least in my heart, I remember the stories more than the numbers, and this is a place where the stories are getting harder,” said Novak. “Or the stories are disappearing, and it’s not OK to say, ‘Just move off the hill.’ Why should anybody be discarded like that? Priced out and pushed out.”
Along with resources provided by North Tahoe-Truckee Homeless Services and United For Action, there are multiple other agencies on the North Shore, like Sierra Community House. Its Hunger Relief Program is a food pantry that provides hunger relief services and other food programs for the community. All are welcome to use these services, and there is no required documentation to receive aid.
North Tahoe-Truckee Homeless Services has opened a Day Respite Center and an Emergency Warming Center in Truckee at the Church of Mountains, 10069 Church St., where neighbors can receive help from case managers for food and housing support. The Respite Center is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and offers breakfast, lunch, showers, laundry, access to internet and phone, case management, and connection to services.
At the Washoe Tahoe Summit that was hosted earlier this month by Linda Offerdahl, executive director of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Community & Business Association, one topic that was deemed to be important by organizations and nonprofit leaders was a large lack of communication on not just these topics, but a wide variety of issues that plague the North Shore.
Novak and Foley believe that through inward and outward communication and education about these topics, a bigger sense of awareness can be raised.
“It means that we’ve got to get out and advocate to stand up, to speak up, to get this on social media,” said Novak. “Because a lot of people in the tourism industry are not shining a light on this. It’s up to us who are locals to keep this moving, to keep the solutions and the problem front and center.”
Miranda Jacobson is a staff writer with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun
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