Tahoe’s homeless left out in the cold | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe’s homeless left out in the cold

Adam Jensen
A woman makes a donation to a person in need. / Dan Thrift / Tribune file photo

With winter’s rapid approach, South Lake Tahoe’s homeless face limited options when it comes to finding shelter.

In June, the board of directors for El Dorado County’s lone homeless shelter, Camino-based Grace Place, made the decision not to re-open the facility this winter.

Operating for the past two years on a volunteer and donation basis, safety concerns prompted the closing of the center until funding for a fully trained and paid staff could be obtained.

“Demand on the program really outgrew a volunteer program. It needed to be a paid program to run an adequate shelter,” said Raj Rambob, founder and former president of Grace Place’s operator, United Outreach of El Dorado County. “Nobody realized how big the need actually was.”

Initially intended to serve a local homeless population, the shelter, located for the past two years at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Camino, has served over 300 individual guests with approximately 4,313 check-ins since March 2005, according to an Aug. 23 memorandum from Doug Nowka, Interim Director of the El Dorado County Department of Human Services.

“We have had guests from as far as South Lake Tahoe,” Rambob said on Friday. “I think people would like to do their best to realize there isn’t a problem. It’s sometimes safer to act that there isn’t one.”

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approved $42,000 earlier this month to cover operating costs of Grace Place, which typically operates four nights a week, from November through January.

Without further funding or donations, the shelter may have to shut its doors for the coldest months of winter, according to Rambob.

Federal funding for a homeless shelter in El Dorado County is still years away.

A plan outlining solutions to the homeless problem in the county, called a Continuum of Care, is pending approval, according to Joyce Aldrich, program manager for the county’s Human Services Department.

Approval of the plan would make the county eligible for up to $180,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a shelter project, according to the August memo.

Authorization of the plan would make funds available after March 2009, Aldrich said.

While “really excited” at the prospect of a full-time shelter in South Lake Tahoe, Rambob said opening a chapter in South Lake would require hiring a full-time director, a substantial expense for an organization still struggling to fund a single shelter.

Tahoe Youth & Family Services, based in South Lake Tahoe, opened a drop-in youth center for the homeless in July, but is also excited by the prospect of an overnight shelter at Tahoe.

Having obtained federal grants to maintain its current services, the non-profit can now direct resources toward obtaining funding for a full-time shelter, according to Alissa Nourse, executive director.

Nourse is searching for a house in South Lake Tahoe suitable for such a shelter.

The drop-in center is available to homeless people up to 24 years old. Food, laundry, showers, limited clothing, access to computers, and help obtaining birth certificates and Social Security cards are some of the services available at the center.

Because of the organization’s focus on youth and families, the adult homeless of South Lake Tahoe may still be required to travel to the west slope or Carson City for overnight shelter from the typically harsh Tahoe winter.

Encompassing 38 beds between separate men’s and women’s facilities in Carson City, Friends in Service Helping (FISH) is the closest shelter to South Lake Tahoe.

“We do see an increase in the winter. We try not to turn anyone away because of capacity,” said Jeff Fast, homeless services coordinator for the shelter. “There have been times when we have had to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, we’re full,’ but those are pretty rare.”

Who is homeless?

People remain homeless an average of eight months in the survey cities. Officials estimate that, on average, single men comprise 51 percent of the homeless population, families with children 30 percent, single women 17 percent and unaccompanied youth 2 percent. The homeless population is estimated to be 42 percent African-American, 39 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Native American and 2 percent Asian. An average of 16 percent of homeless people is considered mentally ill; 26 percent are substance abusers. Thirteen percent are employed. Requests for assisted housing by low-income families and individuals increased in 86 percent of the cities during the last

— How Many People Experience Homelessness?

NCH Fact Sheet #2

Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, August 2007.

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