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History of Sierra Roots

Sierra Roots was born in October 2011 out of extreme concern for the chronically homeless population of Nevada City, California.

After a Nevada City homeless man was found frozen to death on the streets, and the remains of another homeless woman were found in a shallow grave near a homeless camp, the community became aware of the urgent need to address the effects of homelessness.

Although Hospitality House (an overnight emergency shelter) had been officially opened in October of 2005, many long-term homeless persons either failed to meet its criteria for shelter or were reluctant to participate in treatment or recovery-based programs. In any event, it became clear that the needs of a large segment of the homeless population could not alone be served by Hospitality House. To meet this need, Sierra Roots was founded in 2011 as a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, led by a Board of Directors.  

The Sierra Roots program began with sandwiches, water, and fruit being served once a week to our homeless population. This had the long-term advantage of our getting to know these homeless citizens and their needs. We were guided in learning how best to understand and approach our chronically homeless population by Jay Levy’s book, Pretreatment Guide for Homeless Outreach and Housing First. We immediately saw that personal interaction and friendship were a more lasting, if slower, way to help bring the homeless individual back into society with dignity and acceptance. In short, homeless persons began to work WITH us, and to help their fellow homeless friends get the assistance they needed. A real community began to form.

In 2012 Sierra Roots began providing a hot, nutritious meal once a week, and we moved to Pioneer Park throughout the summer. In addition to weekly lunches, Sierra Roots began to offer homeless persons clothes, toiletries and non-perishable food to take with them. If they needed batteries, new shoes, tarps, tents, lanterns or other things, they requested them when they signed in before eating. We made the decision on an individual basis to provide what we could to make their lives more livable in the uninhabitable places they lived without a home.  

During the winter of 2013, Sierra Roots petitioned Nevada City to help open a severe weather shelter for homeless persons. With the cooperation and support of Nevada City officials, we were able to use two venues (Seaman’s' Lodge in Pioneer Park and Veteran's Hall in the City). We prepared a Memorandum of Understanding with the City and were able to open a cold weather shelter when the weather was predicted to meet the City’s MOU criteria. Sierra Roots recruited and trained 65 new volunteers to serve at the shelter. We also established strict rules of behavior when accepting anyone who was homeless and cold. In 2018, Nevada County provided financial assistance that enabled us to offer stipends for overnight volunteer and security personnel. Our interactions and experiences with long-term homeless individuals at the shelter, as well as our lunches, provided us the opportunity to practice the principles of “Outreach and Relationship” that Jay Levy advocates in his book.

Over time, it became evident that training individuals in Jay Levy's principles of outreach to the chronically homeless would be most supportive of the vision and mission of Sierra Roots. Advocacy Training, the Extreme Weather Shelter, and the lunch and clothes programs are essential to our Mission as Sierra Roots continues to pursue our vision of a community in which everyone has a chance to heal and a place to call home.
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