South Tahoe group seeks to create a homeless shelter |

South Tahoe group seeks to create a homeless shelter

Jack Barnwell
Beggar warming himself
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

After a self-described life of plenty, South Lake Tahoe resident Cynthia McCormick lost everything — her health and career, then her home. She was even forced to sleep in her car, sometimes in below-freezing weather.

That’s the message McCormick, who is no longer homeless, and members of the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless relayed to the South Lake Tahoe City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 1. They were there to advocate for use of the South Lake Tahoe Recreation Complex on Rufus Allen Boulevard for a “warm room” during extreme winter nights. It’s their hope that up to 20 homeless men and women could use the recreation center between 8:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. as needed.

The Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless is made up of various South Lake Tahoe community and religious organizations.

“Had there been a warm room here when I was homeless, perhaps my health would not have deteriorated to the extent it has,” McCormick said. “Every human being needs a warm, safe environment to sleep in, even if it’s only for four hours.”

According to Scott Weavil, a coalition board member, the recreation complex would only be a temporary pilot site until a permanent solution could be found.

“A warm room will give people a chance to catch their breath and allow them to focus on getting assistance needed,” Weavil said.

Unity at the Lake Church and Temple Bat Yam both also offered to be backup sites for the coalition.

Most city council members, while sympathetic, denied the request.

“This is a very delicate situation. I know we need a warm and safe room, but I don’t think it’s an appropriate use for the rec center,” Mayor Hal Cole said.

He added that he wasn’t against using city resources, but it couldn’t support a 6 a.m. eviction of homeless people, especially if daytime weather was as severe.

“We need a facility that isn’t just available from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” Cole said. “We need one available 24 hours a day because there are needs even on a cold day.”

Councilwoman JoAnn Conner expressed health and safety concerns about volunteers and homeless people staying in the recreation complex.

“How do you know that you don’t have a predator coming through the doors?” Conner said. “I’m not opposed to this, but there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

Councilman Austin Sass supported using taxpayer money to place homeless people in motel rooms on a case-by-case need.

Other concerns included family housing, people with dogs, and sanitary issues.

Only Councilwoman Wendy David agreed with the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless that the recreation complex should be used for a “warm room,” noting there was a difference between a “warm room” and a permanent shelter.

Barton Hospital’s Dr. Leigh Wayne Miller, who serves as the coalition’s chief financial officer, noted the benefits the “warm room” could provide the city’s homeless population.

“It’s been heavy on our hearts that we don’t have an option when we discharge homeless patients,” Miller said.

According to Miller, extreme weather conditions compound other medical issues among the homeless population, including injuries, malnutrition, and lack of proper medical care. A potentially difficult winter this year could make matters worse.

“We need a solution, only if it’s temporary at this point,” Miller said.

Temple Bat Yam Rabbi Evon Yakar, a coalition member, said community resources — like food, medical treatment and “help” lines — can’t be maximized until a central shelter hub is located.

“Those resources can’t be fully utilized until the immediate needs of shelter, safety and security are realized,” Yakar said, and the “warm room” would act as a way to disseminate information and much-needed referrals.

The council ultimately formed a committee, with David and Conner tapped to work with the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless to find a solution.

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