Insights from the First Grandmother Pledge Workshop

There is no need to mince words. When taking into consideration the plight of the chronically homeless, as homeless advocate Janice O’Brien points out, “We are not lifting the chronically homeless out of their plight as much as we are assisting many of them through their dying process.”

Surprising statement, isn’t it? It’s startling, until you begin to look a little deeper.

A "chronically homeless" person is defined as "a homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years."

Today, not only are we finding the chronically homeless beleaguered by bronchitis, pneumonia, staph infections, and a colorful assortment of addictions, now we have Lyme Disease to contend with. You better believe that anyone sleeping out in the woods has been bitten by a Lyme infected Deer Tick.  And from what we are currently seeing throughout our outreach on the streets in Nevada City, 100% of the homeless are showing signs of the debilitating and deadly disease. Including their dogs.

It is just now that many homeless advocates are beginning to fully realize the host of complications that goes along with this. As well as the amount of suffering that the homeless and their dogs are going to endure. It will continue to be heartbreaking. Lyme Disease and homelessness are difficult enough on their own, let alone in tandem.

This is just one of the many challenges that will ultimately require a consistent and compassionate ‘triage in the streets.’

To address the issue of homelessness and a rising disenfranchised sentiment among our youth, last Saturday, February 23rd, at City Hall chambers in Nevada City, 21 grandmothers and grandfathers met up with homeless advocates, law enforcement, and local advocacy groups for the first in a series of Grandmother Workshops for grandparents of all ages.

The Grandmother Pledge, launched election-day 2012 by former City Councilwoman and Mayor, Reinette Senum, and See Jane Do’s, Elisa Parker, took place on the Commercial Street Boardwalk where much of this work is targeted. The aim is to  ‘take a stand by sitting down.’  It’s a recruitment of sorts that encourages Grandparents to come downtown and hold the space of the elder.

The Introduction to the Grandmother Pledge Workshop had 5 presenters ready to share their experiences.  An overview was given by Nevada City Police Officer Shane Franssen, who kicked off the workshop by sharing his perception of the scene on the streets of Nevada City.

Officer Franssen shared how he is seeing prescription medications being the most prevalent drug of choice by teens to mid twenty year olds. A most unfortunate circumstance has been arising with the young homeless population who believe that meth will help them break their prescription drug addiction. 

Taking it from bad to worse, right?

Officer Franssen also shared the pilot program that the Nevada City Police Department has launched: creating a standard that those camping on private or city owned land must abide by. Including background checks.

Though somewhat controversial, it has helped move along those with a criminal record simply because they do not want to be bothered by police camp-checks. Officer Franssen also talked about the additional police outreach throughout the surrounding woods as well as in the streets.

Jeffrey Dupra, Hospitality House Outreach Director, and collaborator with the Nevada City Police, shared his own personal experience in understanding that working with the homeless to better direct their lives has, in many ways, had more of an impact on his own life than the homeless themselves.

Jeffrey explained that, like many of us, he came to find his preconceived notions of what the homeless population may need to end their homelessness is not necessarily what they want, or what they can manage.

Working with each homeless person, face to face, ultimately removes our own assumptions about the issue, including the fear and misconceptions surrounding it. If we are lucky, it can lead us to our own humanity. Reflecting, Jeffrey admitted it has been a humbling experience that he continues to learn from.

We heard from Janice O’Brien, co-founder of Hospitality House, and member of Sierra Roots. Janice shared how every Thursday she makes a couple dozen sandwiches with meat, and with the help of volunteers or her grandchildren they hand out sandwiches to a group of homeless by the crusher in the Chinese parking lot. Ultimately, she would like to see a soup kitchen established, not just for the homeless, but for the elderly who are many times isolated in their own homes.

Shea Smith, founder of HAALo (Healthy Alternatives for All Locals), also shared the outreach efforts she has undertaken with the very same group of homeless in the Chinese parking lot.  With community and student involvement, alternative first aid kits were created for the homeless that can also be safely applied to dogs. These kits are handed out regularly and a grandmother at the Workshop is now rallying a local church and women’s group to make additional kits.

Homeless representative, William Peach, who was the first homeless person to be approved by the new police camping program shared how he has been homeless for 10 years now, employed the whole time.

Provided as a community test pilot two years ago, William now lives in a donated 3x8 micro-house, designed with a tin roof, 2 hatches with mosquito netting, a window, wooden rickshaw handles, and pair of large wooden wheels built for easy transport into the woods.

William spoke candidly about his life, dispelling the myth that the homeless don’t work and highlighted how little things like being provided a living space the size of a chicken coop, can improve a person’s life. William can now stay warm in the winter by heating his tiny space with one candle.

Reinette Senum, workshop organizer, spoke about the importance of not starting the Grandmother Pledge with a set of goals, but rather, a foundation of values.

At the end of the workshop, the Grandmothers were asked to identify and share six values that they think important for their outreach.  These would be the values we would take into the streets while reaching out to those we connect with during our tour of Grandmother Duty.

The top six values agreed upon are:

Value                                                            # of Votes

Listen                                                                       12

Stay non-reactive                                                        9

Don't try to fix or cure                                                9

Be respectful                                                             8

Don't judge                                                                7

Set positive boundaries                                              7

There are many tasks that need to be undertaken. Some tasks are more complicated than others, but all support positive changes in the lives of those who are many times overlooked in our community.

Are you interested? Do you want to know more or would like to attend a Grandmother Workshop? If so, please contact us at ,or check out the Grandmother Pledge at