As we enter into fire season, community concern is rising about the possible threat of a wildfire inadvertently started by people who are homeless and camping in the woods. In addition, homeless individuals remain at high risk for contracting COVID-19 due to their lack of access to clean water as well as their many underlying health issues. To address these concerns, the County recently launched a pilot program to test the effectiveness of an intensive, short-term intervention with cohorts of campers. Due to the specific concerns about encampments on Sugarloaf Mountain in Nevada City, the pilot was launched with this group of campers.
A coalition has been formed that includes the Health and Human Services Agency Nevada City Police Department, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, Hospitality House, Sierra Roots and other partner community organizations who are coming together to support the campers on Sugarloaf. The HOME Team is taking the lead on placing the 15 or so individuals from Sugarloaf Mountain in a Nevada City motel. Once this group is safely housed and has a chance to rest and recover from being unsheltered, the HOME Team and Sierra Roots staff will begin a process of working with them to develop personal action plans that focus on the needs and goals of each individual, including obtaining permanent housing and treatment as applicable.
Phase two of this pilot project includes a focus on cleaning up Sugarloaf Mountain, including removing all remnants of the camps and implementing mitigation efforts to address ongoing fire danger. Individuals who had been camping on Sugarloaf will be engaged in the clean-up process along with other key partners and stakeholders. Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis shared, “I am so happy to be a part of this multi-agency effort to address not only some of Nevada City’s homelessness issues but also some environmental and fire mitigation issues. I have brought the pilot program before City Council and they were unanimously on board and thankful for everyone’s efforts.”
One of the goals of the project is to initiate a deeper dialog with the camping community about our shared interest in keeping our community safe from fire danger and other environmental impacts of camping. By engaging the group of campers as a socially connected cohort, we hope to have more success in working together with them to design more effective community and individual strategies.
Successfully re-housing individuals who have been chronically homeless is incredibly challenging due to the complexity of the many issues they typically face. This pilot project will help us understand the potential success of short-term focused interventions, as well as help highlight the remaining barriers to permanent housing for this population. We will be learning from this experience, and we are hopeful that the focus on relationship and community building translates into a stronger partnership in addressing the community and individual impacts of homelessness.