Guest column: Grateful for support in addressing homelessness in South Lake Tahoe (opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Guest column: Grateful for support in addressing homelessness in South Lake Tahoe (opinion)

Marissa Muscat
Guest Column

At the close of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, during a week when most of us look at our lives and consider how grateful we are, I am again struck by the generosity of our small community and how blessed I am to live here.

Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless (TCH) is a young nonprofit whose mission is to support our neighbors experiencing homelessness by partnering with our community to promote awareness, provide warm beds, and encourage self-sufficiency. Most of the South Shore is familiar with our project, the South Lake Tahoe Warm Room.

In three winters, we have provided emergency winter shelter to over 300 people and 13 families, including 7,730 shelter bed nights since inception. We plan to open our doors for a fourth season this December because of overwhelming support from individuals and businesses in our mountain town.

Unfortunately, a lack of shelter continues to be a problem for over 500,000 people every year in the United States, according to Housing and Urban Development's 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

For the first time in seven years, homelessness increased. California saw the highest increase in homelessness in 2017 with a 13.7 percent increase; it was the only state to see an increase in homeless men, women and children. Nevada saw the fourth-largest increase of 4.9 percent, and both states have the highest number of unsheltered homeless individuals and families in the country.

On a single January night in El Dorado County in 2017, 598 individuals were homeless, 94 of them in South Lake Tahoe, according to El Dorado Opportunity Knocks Continuum of Care website. Of those 598 individuals, 495 of those were sleeping unsheltered and exposed to the elements, instead of in an emergency shelter; 98 of the county's homeless were veterans; and 123 were survivors of domestic violence.

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So, while the Warm Room provides a needed service for our community, we know that homelessness doesn't end when the Warm Room closes each spring. For that reason, TCH began a program of year-round outreach. Our advocates go to Bread and Broth, visit encampments with law enforcement, and have a small office where they make appointments to assist those with housing insecurity.

Since our Warm Room doors closed in May, staff made 42 appointments and encountered 34 clients; 17 of those clients were assisted in finding housing. Two families were referred to El Dorado County Health and Human Services, and one of those families is in permanent housing. Three individuals were referred to Behavioral Health Services and another is in the process of being accepted into a substance abuse rehabilitation program.

Our organization is working hard to assist our homeless community and end homelessness on the South Shore.

This hard work is possible thanks to the dedication of a lot of people, but especially the local organizations and foundations that support us. Last week, I was honored to receive a grant from Vail's Epic Promise Foundation. In addition to supporting our project through a cash grant that will provide for 100 shelter bed nights and in-kind product donations throughout the upcoming year, Heavenly and Kirkwood employees nominated us to receive an additional $2,500 as the recipient of the "Epic Promise Impact Award." My surprise was evident in the photos, I think, as they announced our name that evening.

It is such an honor to be nominated, yet to win created an immense sense of pride and emotion for our board of directors, employees and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to see this project come to life.

This year we saw support from the Barton Foundation, Caesar's Foundation, American Century Championship/Lake Tahoe Visitor's Authority, Pape' Family Foundation, Tahoe Douglas Rotary, and the El Dorado Community Foundation through the Veteran's Fund, El Dorado Friends of Seniors Fund, ENDOW El Dorado, and the South Lake Tahoe Endowment.

Volunteers worked over 675 hours last winter in the Warm Room alone. We have financial support from over 200 individuals, businesses, and non-profits in the region.

We are so grateful to receive so much love and encouragement as we prepare to open our doors in December for our fourth winter season. Our anticipated opening date will be Dec. 10, as soon as our permits are confirmed we will announce the location.

Marissa Muscat, MD, is executive director of Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless. To make a donation, visit tahoehomeless.org.