Roots Are “Radicle” by Janice O'Brien

Local author, Renee Wade, writes in her book, The Living Earth Handbook, "In botany, a radicle is the root that emerges from the seed. The root is the part of the plant that digs deep into the soil, meets the neighbors, gathers needed food or water, offers sustenance to allies and develops connections. The root gathers and sends both nutrients and information to the whole of the plant, anchoring it firmly in a world of active relationship and meaning." 

This is exactly what Sierra Roots is about - developing connections and anchoring our mission firmly in a world of active relationship and meaning. Sierra Roots is "radicle" in it's desire to build homes within a caring, healing community with the chronically homeless who are so ready to become part of the solution instead of the problem. At the same time we meet our neighbors, offer sustenance to our allies and nformation to the whole plant of the larger community. 

Sierra Roots has a "radicle" idea that healing can and will happen through active relationship and connections with each individual who has been homeless and marginalized so long that they live in struggle and hopelessness every day. It's "radicle" to think that with a new approach of working with these individuals and their own solutions to the predicaments they find themselves in, healing and prosperity will abound. In a neighborhood of small homes and a gathering center where a caring community of residents and non-profit volunteers work and play together, healing happens. 

Sierra Roots is new, with a new approach to healing and productivity for those who are homeless at this time. Sierra Roots, like its name, is a radicle way of changing things for the homeless in our community. At the same time we offer a new perspective on how to deal with the homelessness situation we find ourselves in here, and in every community in the United States.

Trena's Story

Trena Bristol, a person without a home for 5 years, was a guest for the project “A Place to Call Home.” Here is her story, in her words.


This is probably the last place I'd ever thought I'd find myself. I am a Harvard graduate, and also have an MBA from UC Davis. I have lots of experience in public accounting, and was a licensed CPA in two states. I have also been in the military for 10 years,  I was not in active duty but spent time in the reserves and National Guard and had a lot of great experience from that.

So what happened started back in 2011. I was working up in Lake Tahoe had been working up there for 10 years when my job went away. It was an after effect of the 2008 crash. Most of our real estate clients lost a lot of revenue and in2011 the revenue sank to a point where they couldn't pay me full-time, and I had to go looking for another full-time job.  I finally got an entry-level tax manager job in San Francisco through some connections, a fellow I used to work for at Price Waterhouse Coopers. So I pulled some strings and landed that job. I was very excited and got down there and then was laid off after six months without really given any feedback. So I thought I’d tryto get another job so I got three other jobs in quick succession with large public accounting firms and got laid off after a couple of months each time. Then I decided I'd try my luck in Sacramento and got hired by a public accounting firm, butgot laid off again. I am just completely baffled. This has never happened to me.  I had no idea what was going on. 

For the next year and a half, I tried various things including being a Buddhist nun for awhile but that didn’t quite work out. Then somebody I worked for in Reno, a former colleague of mine in Reno who thought highly of me, told me about a job opening. I have been unemployed for an unheard-of two years so I go work for that firm and do everything humanly possible to handle this job. They laid me off after four months and I was utterly floored. I was at the edge, and if it wasn’t for background checks to purchase a gun in California, I may have gone through with it.  

When I got laid off again for the fifth time in less than two years, a couple of very dear friends, especially one who knew me for four years, said there were motions I used that were odd and maybe I should check on it. She said maybe they think you are high or drunk. I went to a local doctor, but because I was adopted, they didn't have the background to make a diagnosis.

My world didn't make any sense anymore. You know it's like if you were trying to wake up in the morning and put on your pants and your pants won't go on.  I have never had troublekeeping a job.  

My first referral to a neurologist was December, 2015, but was a small disaster. I have learned that you really have to get in front of movement disorder specialists, somebody with a background who's got a history of looking at people and by their motions, they can tell if there's a Parkinson's tremor versus a Huntington’s. My dermatologist, on an annual visit, stepped in to help. He referred to me Dr. Sharon Shaw at Stanford, who worked in this amazing center, like a brand new six floor building dedicated to nothing but neuroscience.  Within ten minutes, she diagnosed me with a form of Huntington’s disease. Within a month and a half they declared me disabled.

To hear more of Trena’s story:

Supportive Community Housing: People who are Homeless Now, or Will Be Soon

In answer to Michael Heggerty’s piece in the Union on Monday, May 15th, 2017, and in solidarity with the piece about tiny houses fixing the huge problem of a growing number of people becoming homeless, I wish to speak out.  Sierra Roots, the non-profit that is already serving this population has as its mission, the creation and development of a Supportive Community of small bedroom units surrounding a Community Center with   a commercial kitchen, laundry and bathrooms for the residents.  We begin by building community with the people who are homeless, knowing that sincere and trusting relationship is the first step towards health and purpose.  We call this “building community with people who are without homes”.  We have been doing this for several years now through our lunches, our advocacy work, getting medical help for them and opening a cold weather shelter this past winter.  This is a temporary help until we can provide supportive community housing for them.

Once we find a site of 4-5 acres, the residents and our team of volunteers and non-profit leaders will work to build a Community Center and 30 tiny cabins or sleeping units by using sustainable building methods.  All use permits and zoning regulations will be followed with the help of our Project Development team of Volunteers.  We have plans to include an aquaponic organic garden, bee-keeping, a dwarf tree orchard and a barn/workshop where residents can develop micro-enterprises.

The residents will be responsible for maintaining and improving the Community.  There will also be experienced managers on site around-the-clock to handle any issues arising. A Council of residents and non-profit leaders will oversee the self managed community.  Applicants to the community must be local, and will be interviewed with a motivational interview to help them decide on a path to health, purpose and well-being.  Advocates are being trained now to be available to individual residents to help them follow their chosen path to health.  These advocates are already working with individuals who are chronically homeless and need and respond to one-on-one personal help.  

Supportive Community Housing is definitely needed for chronically homeless residents.  They need to be safe, sheltered and supported in their journey to health, sustainability and civic participation. Residents will pay a percentage of their income for rent or provide sweat equity by working on the land.  This is just one proved solution to the local homeless situation. Sierra Roots has a plan and is ready to go forward with it once we find a suitable site.

Sierra Roots is not seeking funding from City or County. We are only asking for cooperation and collaboration to help us see this project through for the benefit of the whole community.  This is one positive solution for the chronically homeless who are now living in the forest, camping illegally, leaving trash and being the source of extreme fire danger and community aggravation and fear.  

A 24/7 emergency shelter is transitional housing.  This Sierra Roots solution would be a sustainable, affordable and beautiful permanent housing for those who cannot find or pay for apartment housing and cannot live in an apartment. They want to work the land, have a separate and private dwelling of their own that can be locked and safe. The Village will be a central place for county agencies to connect with people and where those needing day laborers can find them. 

Can this work successfully and be sustainable?  ABSOLUTELY! Sierra Roots' Board members and volunteers are dedicated and passionate about making sure it works. A 24/7 emergency shelter is good for transitional housing but still is not a place to call their own. Sierra Roots and the many donors, volunteers and leaders work WITH the people who are without homes instead of working as a charitable organization that gives temporary aid to these individuals. Sierra Roots does provide a hand up instead of a hand out.  And as we do that, we also provide food, clothing, tents and tarps that are needed until we can find a sanctuary site on which to build the supportive community housing we envision.

Please join one of our teams –Advocates Team, Emergency Shelter Team, Lunch Team, Project/Development Team, Grant Writing Team

For more information call 265-5403 or 264-5113



It used to be said that any man (old saying) that sits back at the scene of a crime or an obvious and blatant injustice and does nothing to prevent the travesty, but could have, is just as guilty as the perpetrator themselves. 

Short of making bricks from recycled newspapers The Union has done what it could--it has generously given voice to this clear and present danger. 

I guess that leaves it to the County government whose number one job is supposed to be public safety. Leaving folks out in the cold and dark is not safe for anyone. The county could be part of the solution starting tomorrow. They have had a lease in front of them for over two years now and they do far too little. They have done numerous studies that virtually no one has read. I can’t even get through them all. 

Dying from exposure is a tangible concern for Nevada County's homeless, and occurs with shameful regularity. Those that make it through the winters are still confronted with a life expectancy of about fifty years— less that two-thirds the lifespan of the average American. And this is to speak nothing of quality of life—our county's homeless contract disease, struggle with mental illness, and face abuse and assault at rates drastically higher that the average American. 

Unfortunately, we have become too passive and complacent with our neighbors' suffering. Though many exceptional organizations and individuals have worked tirelessly to support our homeless population, the vast majority of citizens and most of our elected representatives have opted instead to look the other way; at best, anticipating the perfect solution, and at worst, believing "bootstrap" myths of social mobility. 

If nothing changes, however, history suggests that individuals may well literally freeze to death in the next year or so. When that happens, who will bare the moral responsibility? Will inaction in the face of injustice make you morally culpable? To what extent is passively allowing your neighbor to decease in the elements indistinguishable from actively killed them yourself? 

Real people's lives are at stake, and after all, inaction toward any issue is still a form of action. To decide what constitutes right and ethical action, consider the four questions below, read through our logic if you'd like, and decide on an answer for yourself. 

1- Do you have a role in solving this problem, or is it completely someone else’s? 

Obviously, no one individual can involve himself or herself in every issue. We pick and choose based on our interests, abilities, fears, convenience, and obligations. Yet, we also know that people have an onus to take action on issues they would otherwise prefer to ignore. It is illegal to witness and not report child abuse in California, for instance. So, legally speaking, the acceptability of inaction can be based on a witness' knowledge, and a victim's capabilities. You may know nothing about fighting and hate confrontation, but if you cross one small child bullying another, you will likely step in and help. Here, the acceptability of inaction comes down to proximity, relative power, and the fact that no one would have stepped in if you had not. 

Is homelessness close to you in proximity, figuratively or literally? Is there someone else, if not you? To what extent can the victims solve the problem without your help? 

2- To what extent are we responsible for the problem? 

There is lots and lots of precedence where injustice in front of us is passively treated. But I don’t think that we should just talk about the ”studies” that have already been done while so many of our fellow citizens are suffering. I can’t even get through the plethora of previously created Nevada County homeless studies, can you? They all get around to, “We’d like to do these things, but we can’t really afford them.” Therefore, when it comes to getting something done the only solution is “What do the citizens want to volunteer to do?” Everything else is academic. As proven around the country, the citizens want to get together and make tiny house villages with and for the homeless. It’s participatory, it’s meaningful, and it’s fun. Then set them up in a functional and successfully managed village. The tiny village concept is being successfully implemented around the country saving both money and lives. 

Nevada County residents, so far, appear to have three central concerns. The first has to do with money. People are understandably worried that an Opportunity Village for the homeless might end up diverting funding from important county or city programs that are already financially stretched. Fortunately, this model is designed to be totally expense free for our county and city governments. Moreover, there is plenty of reason to believe it could actually save the county a considerable amount of money. In 2012, the HUD secretary estimated that a homeless individual living on the streets cost taxpayers about $40,000 a year, and data suggests that this is actually a conservative estimate! Without the stability of a home and the dignity it provides, homeless are prone to "randomly ricochet through very expensive services," according to Philip Mangano, former head of US Interagency Council on Homelessness under President Bush and policy advisor under President Obama. However, multiple studies have confirmed that providing formally homeless individuals with supportive housing can easily reduce their cost to the public by over three-quarters. I cannot think of a reason why Nevada County would be different? 

The second has to do with a fear for safety, and a worry about liability. In this view, placing a few dozen individuals together, some of whom may suffer from mental illness and addiction, is simply asking for trouble. In a sense, the folks are correct: there will be problems, and maybe big ones. But that is life. What's more, the same issues that will inevitably arise in an Opportunity Village are going on as we speak in the forested tent encampments around the county—the only difference is that they will be more visible, and more difficult to ignore. In fact, the simple convenience of a tiny home and access to basic facilities—a door that locks, for instance—goes a long way in preventing the kind of crime and chaos that people fear will occur because of such a village. No doubt fire is a real concern. Many of the local fires of late have been created by homeless people in the woods. 

Finally, there is the concern that helping the homeless is slippery slope toward creating a welfare state, and that putting a roof over their head would threaten the ethic of hard work and discipline. Though I imagine few possess the audacity to claim it allowed, a brazen remark made by a particular county supervisor to the effect of "an Opportunity Village would encourage people to be homeless" leads me to believe this opinion is fairly common. Even if I were able to callous my empathy and sympathize with this view in theory, it is utterly disingenuous in practice, and reflects a profound and alarming ignorance about the issue of homelessness. For the vast majority of individuals, homelessness has nothing to do with hard work. Domestic violence, childhood abuse, mental illness, unemployment, and a lack of affordable housing are all far and away more relevant factors. Additionally, if keeping people in their own homes is indeed a priority, then providing supportive housing, which has a proven track record of alleviating chronic homelessness, should actually be prioritized, as opposed to shunned. 

Would building an Opportunity Village require sacrificing any other morals? 

3- Do you have too much to lose by taking action? 

One would hardly blame a person who refrained from running across I-80 during rush hour to save a stray cat. Though it would have been a selfless act, there would have simply been too much to lose, and inaction in this instance would be perfectly acceptable. 

Is the homeless situation in Nevada County an analogous example? 

4- Will taking action be helpful and effective? 

Undoubtedly, inaction toward a problem can be justified if the alternative action does nothing to solve the problem... 

The reality is that idea of the tiny-house community is fairly new, and thus, we lack mountains and mountains of empirical data to assist in answering this question. We do know, however, that supportive housing, at its most general level, can be enormously beneficial in pulling individuals out of chronic homelessness. We also know that cities around the nation are rapidly embracing this model. Reports so far have been overwhelmingly positive, particularly from the more heavily studied Opportunity Village in Eugene, which is serving as our primary village prototype. Finally, we know that this model, albeit new, is incredibly robust. The houses are easily constructed and mobile, allowing a community to stay intact and individuals housed even as it shifts geographically to accommodate changes. With input from community leaders and even the homeless themselves, we will do our best to cater this specific village to the needs of this community. In Eugene, management has asked three people to leave. Their girlfriends remained. The women felt they had no choice but to stay when they lived in the woods. They needed the “protection”. Many people once they got their feet on the ground segued out voluntarily to jobs, to housing, and to a better life. 

Often overlooked, however, is the potential an Opportunity Village has to benefit the community at large. Unregulated, yet already over policed homeless encampments in the woods pose an extreme fire hazard to our community, which is already plagued by wildfires ever year. Homeless encampments also often have serious negative environment impacts through improper waste disposal and trash generation. 

In action can no longer be a responsible option. Let’s be responsible, let’s do something.

Charles Durrett (53) 265-9980

Dominic Castro-Wehr (530) 913-5386


Sierra Roots has committed to the “HOUSING FIRST” approach to end homelessness in our community. We can offer food, clothes, and help in a number of other ways, but until we can get permanent housing for our homeless people here, we can't really help them get out of homelessness. The micro-house Village is our answer to providing permanent, supportive housing for these folks.

NATIONAL ALLIANCE TO END HOMELESSNESS SOLUTIONS BRIEF – NOVEMBER 27, 2006“HOUSING FIRST” is an approach that centers on providing homeless people with housing quickly, and then providing services as needed. What a differentiates a HOUSING FIRST approach from other strategies is that there is an immediate and primary focus on helping individuals and families quickly access and sustain permanent housing. This approach has the benefit of being consistent with what most people experiencing homelessness want and seek help to achieve. HOUSING FIRST programs share critical elements:

  •  There is a focus on helping individuals and families access and sustain rental housing as quickly as possible and the housing is not time-limited;
  • A variety of services are delivered primarily following a housing placement to promote housing stability and individual well-being;
  •  Such services are time-limited or long-term depending upon individual need; Housing is not contingent on compliance with services – instead, participant must comply with a standard lease agreement and are provided with the services that are necessary to help them do so successfully.

A HOUSING FIRST approach rests on the belief that helping people access and sustain permanent, affordable housing should be the central goal of our work with people experiencing homelessness. By providing housing assistance, case management and supportive services responsive to individual or family needs ( time-limited or long-term) after an individual or family is housed, communities can significantly reduce the time people experience homelessness and prevent further episodes of homelessness. A central tenet of the HOUSING FIRST approach is that social services to enhance individual and family well-being can be more effective when people are in their own home. While there are a variety of program models, all typically include a separate and private home or apartment for each person that is clean, close to services and has easy access.

HOUSING FIRST, which is distinct and separate from “rapid rehousing” is a relatively recent innovation in human service programs and social policy regarding treatment of homeless individuals and is an alternative to a system of emergency shelter/transitional housing progressions. Rather than moving a homeless individual through different “levels” of housing, whereby each level moves them closer to “independent housing” (for example: from the streets to a public shelter, and from a public shelter to a transitional housing program, and from there to their own apartment in the community).

HOUSING FIRST moves the homeless individual or household immediately from the streets or homeless shelters into their own apartments. HOUSING FIRST approaches are based on the concept that a homeless individual or household's first and primary need is to obtain stable housing, and that other issues that may affect the household can and should be addressed once housing is obtained. In contrast, many other programs operate from a model of “housing readiness” - that is, that an individual or household must address other issues that may have led to the episode of homelessness prior to entering housing.