By Darin Barry
I am the house manager serving people who were formerly homeless, suffer from mental illnesses, and who have co-occurring addiction disorder. I am also one of the formative co-founders of the CoLiving Network in Nevada City. We, The CoLiving Network, are taking action. We have purchased a large piece of property in downtown Nevada City with a big house. We have big plans for the property, but in the house, I currently have ten members of our co-living program, all of them formerly homeless, who now have a place to call home. I’ve chosen people who were chased from park benches were they were sleeping, those who staying at the Hospitality House (local shelter), or were staying at the shelter in Auburn, as well as recent graduate of a drug and alcohol program who had no place to go. All of them have co-occurring (formerly termed “dual diagnosis) disorders. The local homeless population has a large proportion of individual who suffer from both mental illness and addiction. It is best that both disorders be treated at the same time. Both disorders are addressed here by certified Peer Support Specialists who live in the house, I being one of them. As well, we have volunteer mental health professionals who volunteer their time helping the house at large; helping to help themselves with coping skills and how to live with their challenges. We have a high focus on addiction disorders. We provide a clean and sober environment with zero tolerance, which makes our residents comfortable and safe. We provide assistance with clothing, placing them with employment opportunities, helping to set them up with medical, dental, and behavioral health programs. We help them to create goals for themselves leading to self-sufficiency. The most important part of these components is helping them help themselves, and others.
Now let’s talk about affordability: TRUE affordability in downtown Nevada City where the rents are ridiculous – we have dorm style rooms for $175, we have private rooms for $275. We have members of our program pay rent to get them used to the expectations in the real world when they are ready to leave the house. We are a rung in the ladder towards self-sufficiency. Even when our house members graduate from our program, they are welcome to still be a part of it by working in the network and attending our Monday night group to offer others support and receive support themselves.
Aside from the CoLiving Networks co-living opportunities in four locations, we have plans for our residents to be involved in building, and participating in our proposed tiny cottages that we are planning to build on our two acre plus property. The tiny cottages will house one to two people per cottage with a center nexus building, or mobile unit where a kitchen and meeting space will be provided to serve the newly formed community. We call this community Homeward Bound University. It is the first rung in the ladder towards self sufficiency. A huge enphasis will be placed on teaching life skills, and coaching to get them on their feet – to get them to a place in their heads where they are ready to take the next opportunity to climb the ladder within our Network. We are going ahead and building this. What might stand in our way, is the City. If the City stands in our way of us creating the ADU unit community, we will be temporarily set back, but we are not going to back down. We are helping the homeless with no government funds.
We have also purchased the former Pic and Pan market to build our CoLiving Network Co-op. It will be built by the Network participants who will have an opportunity to be entrepreneurs within the co-op space. We have already pulled the permit to go for the with our exciting new Co-op opportunity in downtown Grass Valley.
Action is what is needed and we are doing it. We are pulling people off the streets, in shelters, recent graduates from recovery centers and giving them a place they can call home. Our participants are those who are ready to take the steps they need to learn to be on their own.
Our part of the spectrum of the homeless issue is not for the chronic, and severely mentally disabled – that is out of our slice of the pie, out of our scope. There are other organizations within the Nevada County community better prepared than us to properly serve those individuals.
But for the homeless who are ready to help themselves and others, we offer not just housing, but a home. Our model is working. Everyone in the house now has jobs. We bring in people to speak in our group on Monday nights to teach life skills such as money management, employment preparedness with the goal of obtaining employment that is not considered under-employment, effective communication and listening skills, anger management, drug and alcohol support, etc.
At our Monday Night Group is where people learn to live with others and to interact with others, identify their challenges, and learn how to trust others for support, and in return to give it. The house in return is harmonious. Everyone has learned to be honest and open with their own personal challenges, and has learned to support one another.
For those who actively play a leading role in working on the homeless solution, I can invite one or two of you to attend our Monday Night Group throughout the year. Contact me, and I will schedule you in.
Being the house manager, and group facilitator, and peer support specialist for our home in Nevada City has been one of the greatest bright spots in my life. I was formerly homeless, and alcohol addicted myself. I have had a fierce battle with bipolar 1. I know what hopelessness feels like. Having recovered from a seemingness hopeless state of mind and body, I am now able to focus my attention towards others. To see the lights go on in a lonely, terrified, depressed, confused person who used to know only the streets and the bottle, or drugs, is an experience that no-one should miss. You wouldn’t want to. Its like having a front row seat to watch God work.
Hope is a vital gift when people feel like there is none. I am glad to be part of The CoLiving Network that is offering that great gift.