• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

Annual homeless camp cleanup returns for fire season

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Jun 10, 2022
Volunteers throw bags of rubbish and trash into a large dumpster placed alongside the vacant plot planned for the Dorsey Market and apartments near the Highway 49 overpass. The dumpster was provided by Waste Management and groups from SYRCL, Hospitality House, Grass Valley Police Department, Nevada County Probation Department, Dignity Health and private volunteers participating in the annual Hospitality House camp cleanup.
Photo: Elias Funez

More than 50 volunteers gathered along Dorsey Drive on Thursday to clean up a lot that provides temporary shelter for some of Nevada County’s most vulnerable.

The cleanup is the first since before the pandemic, said Joseph Naake of Hospitality House, noting that the effort should not be confused with the homeless “on the move”.

“It was an intermittent camp,” Naake said.

A volunteer throws garbage into a bin which will be transported to a truck which in turn will transport it to a Waste Management dumpster.
Photo: Elias Funez

Leah Flores, 58, said the private, wooded property dotted with cement remains of an old mine off Dorsey Drive has been her home on and off for the past year.

She lives in a red and gray tent for four people pitched under a blue tarp. His kitchen – a stove and grill – sits on a fallen log 8 feet from the tent’s entrance.

Flores said she was keen to keep the area clean, but noted areas where neighbors were piling up and storing trash under the influence of meth. Flores herself moved from various locations on the property based on changes in needs, season, and availability of supplies.

Volunteers picked up trash from the back of a pickup truck along a vacant lot at Dorsey Drive and Highway 49 in Grass Valley on Thursday morning.
Photo: Elias Funez

According to a press release, Hospitality House and the HOME team caring for the needs of the homeless in the Brunswick Basin regularly remove rubbish from rural properties and encourage people living in the forest to protect themselves from fires and to remove debris.

“To aid in this effort, staff are refraining from distributing tents or sleeping bags and have entered into an agreement with Nevada County Code Enforcement to immediately confiscate and dispose of any items discovered on county lands that poses an immediate threat to the safety of the community,” the press release said. .

The cleanup is part of social worker assignments, Naake said, adding that the sites that were cleaned were discovered by social service providers trying to do their job.

About 50 volunteers came together from different organizations in the area, including the Grass Valley Police Department and the South Yuba River Citizens League, to clean up evacuated homeless encampments along Dorsey Drive in the highway 49.
Photo: Elias Funez

HOME Team Supervisor Kristin Glanz said camp cleanups are primarily for “the wider community due to the fire danger”, noting that some of the litter left behind by the homeless is more flammable than dried pine needles and the decaying wood that surrounds it.

Glanz said the HOME team tries to meet the needs of homeless people, even though people would rather live in the woods than in a shelter. Even those who try to avoid participating in society need medical services.

“Some people fear being judged,” Glanz said.

Figures from February’s homeless count are not yet publicly available, Naake said, but the last count in 2019 found 410 homeless people.

Naake said the shelter generally houses people who have medical needs, but “some people are ‘homeless versus homeless’.”


Flores said she was recovering from cellulitis on her foot, an infection she says came from an insect bite on the top of her foot. Getting to the SPIRIT Freed Center in time for lunchtime from noon to 12:30 p.m. has proven difficult since she started limping last month.

A volunteer uses a tool to help pick up rubbish and place it in bags while cleaning the reception house on Thursday morning.
Photo: Elias Funez

Flores was not asked to leave the camp during the cleanup, but noted that she is one of the few to find refuge on the property from the large groups of the past – some of whom still have wooden forts built. shaded by manzanita and isolated by ripped t-shirts and rags.

Casey Davey, the county’s behavioral health nurse, said she has worked for years to build trust between social service providers and people in need.

Davey is currently trying to connect a pregnant mother with housing and rehabilitation services, and noted how last year at this time she was caring for the needs of more than seven pregnant women without safe and consistent housing. Davey said she was finally able to house the expectant mothers during their second and third trimesters, but said the mistrust of institutions was so severe.

A place once littered with layers of rubbish has now been cleaned up.
Photo: Elias Funez

Barb Skillings has lived in the area for five years and said she chose to come to the event because it was “good for the community” and “to keep clean is to be safe”.

“My brother has bipolar disorder,” Skillings said of his out-of-state sibling reminding him why caring for the homeless is important. “He deals with mental illness.”

Skillings said she has done a serious job this season clearing a defensible space on the 10 acres she owns along McCourtney Road. Her personal cleaning process has taught her that even those whose homes might burn can be irresponsible when it comes to fire safety.

“I’m a smoker,” Skillings said, adding, “it’s unacceptable how many cigarette butts I find on the half mile of my property along the main road.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com