Yuba River Cleanup: Homeless Citizens Series PART 1

Homelessness is on the rise. Across California, cities and counties are seeing increases in homeless populations.  During SYRCL’s annual Yuba River Cleanup we often come across homeless encampments and abandoned camps at sites along Wolf Creek and Deer Creek. When faced with this reality, volunteers are left questioning: How do these people get here?  Where are they coming from?  Why are they here?  Are these camps worse than last year? How can we fix it?

To better understand the homeless issue in the Yuba & Bear watersheds, SYRCL is partnering with Hospitality House for the 2019 Yuba River Cleanup. In this 3-part series, we explore homelessness in Nevada County and how it impacts the Yuba River watershed.

  • Who are the homeless of Nevada County and how did they get here? (PART 1)
  • What is the short-term and long-term reality for addressing homelessness here in our watershed; including public concern for fire risk. (PART 2)
  • How can you help our community’s homeless and things to keep in mind when cleaning up around homeless camps. (PART 3)

Are homeless camps a river cleanup issue or a homeless issue at the river?

Each year, through the Yuba River Cleanup, our community removes tons of trash and recycling from the beaches, banks and trails of streams and rivers in the Yuba watershed.  The trash we find comes from multiple of sources: beer cans and cigarette butts left by a summer visitor, illegal dumping of car doors and tires by a housed community member, abandoned camping gear, illegal fire rings and refuse from an abandon homeless camp.  Are the abandoned homeless camps that we return to each year during the Yuba River Cleanup, a cleanup issue or a homeless issue?  To understand, we must look at the bigger picture.

How big is the homeless issue in the Yuba Watershed?

The January 2019, Homeless Resource Council of the Sierras with support from County of Nevada and Hospitality House led a Point-In-Time (PIT) count, to physically count the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless residents on one specific day of the year.   This count confirmed there are a minimum of 410 unique homeless individuals in Nevada County. This is an 11 percent increase over the last count in 2017.  In contrast, Hospitality House provided services to 501 unique homeless individuals throughout 2018, illustrating the shortcoming of relying on one day to count the homeless population. Nonetheless, confirmation is clear: there are hundreds of homeless people in the community who need help and the numbers are increasing … but why? And where did they come from?

Where are the homeless coming from?

First and foremost, when we talk about the homeless population, we mean your neighbors.  The common stigma in our community is that the homeless are migrating to Nevada City for services.  However, this isn’t accurate. The fact is most of our homeless population grew up here and might have even lived right next door to you. Eighty percent of those surveyed in the 2019 count were found to be Nevada County residents for a minimum of one year, with a whopping 59 percent originally from Nevada County or with direct family ties.

Why are these people homeless?

There are multiple factors that contribute to homelessness and every situation is unique, but mental health and substance use are the most common factors. In Nevada County specifically, the numbers are increasing largely because we are in a serious affordable housing epidemic. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a person making minimum wage must work 72-hours per week to afford a one-bed apartment here—that’s maintaining two full-time jobs and when you factor in life—a car breaking down, a past due bill, an unexpected medical expense, an increase in rent or fire insurance, the downward trajectory can easily be set in motion. The bottom line is homelessness can happen to anyone. Many residents of Hospitality House are working full time, going to school full time, and volunteering for community initiatives. They never expected to be without a home, and now that they are homeless.

How you can take action today?

Get informed about the homeless issue in Nevada County by checking out the great work of Hospitality House.  Find out more in our next Yuba River Cleanup series, we will be looking at the steps the Nevada County community is taking to help our homelessness citizensTake action today by joining the Yuba River Cleanup on September 21st, 2019 and help keep our river safe and clean for our entire community. Volunteer registration is now open.

Thank you to the Hospitality House for providing content and information for SYRCL. The mission of Hospitality House is to bring homeless people in Nevada County into a circle of community caring that offers shelter, sustenance, medical care, advocacy, opportunity, dignity, and hope as we assist them in transitioning from homelessness to housing. 

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