“We’re delighted and excited,” said Susan Rice. “This a big, proactive step for Sierra Roots.”

June 30, the Upstate California Creative Corps announced a grant award of $69,696 to Sierra Roots for the Sierra Roots / No Place to Go Project.

“Our creative team will produce a documentary and public awareness campaign on homelessness and alternative housing,” said Rice, who is the executive director of Sierra Roots.

The official logo of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project will be printed on several hundred T-shirts. The shirts will be given to people who support an end to homelessness and the lack of housing.

The official logo of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project will be printed on several hundred T-shirts. The shirts will be given to people who support an end to homelessness and the lack of housing.

The Nevada City-based nonprofit has been feeding and clothing chronically homeless and unhoused citizens of Nevada County since 2011.

A pilot project of the California Arts Council, the California Creative Corps is modeled after the WPA (Works Progress Administration) of the 1930s. The WPA employed creatives like folksinger Woody Guthrie and photographer Dorothea Lange to inspire and document the hard times of the Great Depression.

The mission of the California Creative Corps is the same today: Hire working creatives to use art in any form to improve and validate the lives of the least-fortunate residents of California.

Social Justice

“We are a relationship-based organization that treats our homeless participants with dignity, respect, and we pass no judgement,” said Dianne Weichel, clothing and lunch manager for Sierra Roots. “Tom Durkin fit right into that.”

Sierra Roots has hired Durkin as the creative director of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project.

Freelance journalist and columnist Tom Durkin is the creative director of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project, which was just awarded a $69,969 grant from the Upstate California Creative Corps. The project will focus on ways to end homelessness and the lack of affordable housing.

Freelance journalist and columnist Tom Durkin is the creative director of the Sierra Roots/No Place to Go Project, which was just awarded a $69,969 grant from the Upstate California Creative Corps. The project will focus on ways to end homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. Photo by Linda Shulman

“The videos he’s shot of our guests show their humanity,” said Weichel, who is also a member of the board of directors. “They touch your heart.”

Earlier this year, Durkin asked the board of directors if they would apply for an Upstate California Creative Corps grant if he wrote the application, Rice said. “He wanted to do a documentary and public awareness campaign on homeless people and their best options for housing, which is usually illegal.”

She said the board was skeptical at first, but Durkin was persuasive. In addition to an MFA in TV-Film Production from UCLA, he has lived experience of homelessness, has a track record of homeless advocacy, is a professional writer and photographer, and like thousands of people in this county, he lives illegally in his trailer because there is, literally, no place to go during this statewide homeless/housing crisis.

“Our goal is to work with the cities and counties, and community stakeholders to take an all-hands approach to finding new and compassionate ways to end homelessness and the lack of housing,” he said. “Nevada County could become a model for the state.”

Stiff Competition

Sierra Roots was one of 81 grantees chosen from a highly competitive field of almost 300 applicants from 19 counties in the Upstate division of the California Creative Corps, according to an announcement from the Upstate headquarters in Nevada City.

“Funded projects serve Upstate’s most vulnerable communities, those identified via the California Healthy Places Index and other valuable local data sources,” the Upstate office said in a press release.

Furthermore, “Grantees are collectively part of a media, outreach, and engagement campaign designed to increase awareness for issues such as public health, water and energy conservation, climate mitigation, and emergency preparedness, relief and recovery … through social practice and an array of artforms,”

A complete list of Upstate California Creative Corps grantees can be found at www.upstatecreativecorps.org/grantees.