Sierra Roots was born in October 2011 out of extreme concern for the chronically homeless population of Nevada City, California.

After a Nevada City homeless man was found frozen to death on the streets, and the remains of another homeless woman were found in a shallow grave near a homeless camp, the community became aware of the urgent need to address the effects of homelessness.   

Tree of Lives by Franceska Alexander

Tree of Lives by Franceska Alexander

Although Hospitality House (an overnight emergency shelter) had been officially opened in October of 2005, many long-term homeless persons either failed to meet its criteria for shelter or were reluctant to participate in treatment or recovery-based programs. In any event, it became clear that the needs of a large segment of the homeless population could not alone be served by Hospitality House. To meet this need, Sierra Roots was founded in 2011 as a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, led by a Board of Directors.  

The Sierra Roots program began with sandwiches, water, and fruit being served once a week to our homeless population. This had the long-term advantage of our getting to know these homeless citizens and their needs. We were guided in learning how best to understand and approach our chronically homeless population by Jay Levy’s book, Pretreatment Guide for Homeless Outreach and Housing First. We immediately saw that personal interaction and friendship were a more lasting, if slower, way to help bring the homeless individual back into society with dignity and acceptance. In short, homeless persons began to work WITH us, and to help their fellow homeless friends get the assistance they needed. A real community began to form.

In 2012 Sierra Roots began providing a hot, nutritious meal once a week, and we moved to Pioneer Park throughout the summer. In addition to weekly lunches, Sierra Roots began to offer homeless persons clothes, toiletries and non-perishable food to take with them. If they needed batteries, new shoes, tarps, tents, lanterns or other things, they requested them when they signed in before eating. We made the decision on an individual basis to provide what we could to make their lives more livable in the uninhabitable places they lived without a home.  

The basic idea of a Village was introduced by Andrew Heben of Eugene Oregon in his book, Tent City Urbanism, From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages. He spoke of Opportunity Village in Eugene, where the homeless population helped build their own little homes and created a community that was safe and secure. We invited Andrew here to speak to our community about the idea of building an Opportunity Village in Nevada City. A huge turnout of over 200 people attended the presentation at the Elk's Lodge in Nevada City. This led to a series of smaller meetings about how such a possible Village could be built here.  

Sierra Roots then began looking for parcels of land on which to build our Village. We visited about fifteen land sites, but none of fit our criteria. We also continued to research the successes and difficulties that other tiny house Villages around the country were experiencing; and we identified many successful ideas that we wanted to incorporate in our Village. We continued to work with local police, sheriff, fire departments and environmental and government agencies to ensure their support.

During the winter of 2013, Sierra Roots petitioned Nevada City to help open a severe weather shelter for homeless persons. With the cooperation and support of Nevada City officials, we were able to use two venues (Seaman’s' Lodge in Pioneer Park and Veteran's Hall in the City). We prepared a Memorandum of Understanding with the City and were able to open a cold weather shelter when the weather was predicted to meet the City’s MOU criteria. Sierra Roots recruited and trained 65 new volunteers to serve at the shelter. We also established strict rules of behavior when accepting anyone who was homeless and cold. In 2018, Nevada County provided financial assistance that enabled us to offer stipends for overnight volunteer and security personnel. Our interactions and experiences with long-term homeless individuals at the shelter, as well as our lunches, provided us the opportunity to practice the principles of “Outreach and Relationship” that Jay Levy advocates in his book.

Over time, it became evident that training individuals in Jay Levy's principles of outreach to the chronically homeless would be most supportive of the vision and mission of Sierra Roots. In 2917, we began our Advocacy Training Program—a six-week, 12 hour training twice a year, in the Spring and Fall. The goal is to have 20 to 30 trained Advocates who are available to coach and companion one or two homeless persons through the labyrinth of agency requirements for physical and mental health, as well as job selection and training. The Advocacy Training, the Extreme Weather Shelter, and the lunch and clothes programs are essential to our Mission as Sierra Roots continues to pursue the vision of a Village and community of safety and health.