Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rebecca Nylander — from law school to homeless

HANGTOWN HAVEN RESIDENT and member of the Community Council, Rebecca Nylander, 40, sits in the office at the homeless camp on Oct. 23. Democrat photos by Shelly Thorene

From page A1 | November 04, 2013 | 30 Comments

Hangtown Haven, the city’s legal encampment for the homeless, will end its one-year experiment in communal living on Nov. 15 when its Temporary Use Permit expires. The camp has more than 30 residents, a Community Council of four residents who run the camp and enforce its regulations for the safety of all, and a host of volunteers. This is part II of a four-part series on different residents from the camp. Part I ran Friday. In their stories, you may see glimpses of your own.

Rebecca Nylander, 40, is a member of the Community Council at Hangtown Haven. She’s a smart, detail-oriented person who volunteers two days a week at Green Valley Community Church as a receptionist, works at their Saturday Cafe and does a children’s ministry on Sunday afternoons. When the Haven closes in November, she’ll be homeless — again.

“I’m frightened for the 32 people who live here at the Haven,” said Nylander. “I don’t know what will happen to them. We’ve set a standard here for how to live, stay sober, meet goals to transition out and so we’re not favorites of the traditional homeless population. The shelters won’t be able to accommodate all of us and the traditional homeless population too — we don’t mix anymore. My biggest fear is that it will put people who are being successful and put them with people who are still in the cesspool and it won’t be a step up, it will be stepping down.”

Nylander, mother of two grown daughters, knows what it’s like to step down. On Dec. 4, 2011, she was caring for her mother who had COPD. That was the day her world began to unravel.

She’d left law school, which she loved, to care for her mother. “It was natural for me to do this,” said Nylander. “We were best friends and very close. My brother had cared for her before she got so sick, but there were things that only another woman could do for her.”

On Dec. 4, Nylander’s mother began having a breathing episode. “We had to get her to the hospital and I sent my boyfriend outside to get the car ready,” said Nylander. Her mother had some problems which Nylander had to take care of and when she finished, she noticed her boyfriend had not returned. Going outside, she found a SWAT team on the property and her boyfriend in handcuffs. Police also detained Nylander. Richard Petroski had murdered his stepfather, John Malia, on the property where Nylander’s mother was renting their house.

Nylander’s plea to take her mother to the hospital was denied while the search for Petroski and the crime investigation were underway. When Nylander’s mother was able to be transported to the hospital, she was in respiratory distress.

“She never really recovered,” said Nylander, “and she died on Christmas Eve, 2011.”

Nylander fell into a severe depression. “I was so lost and ill; my relationship with my boyfriend crumbled. I couldn’t even get out of bed. Everything just fell apart for me.”

Her family fell apart as well and they were told to leave the house they rented on the property in March.

“I tried to pull it together. I did volunteer work at the Community Resource Center, but I couldn’t deal with everything,” she said.

In June, 2012, Nylander ended up in the El Dorado County’s Crisis Residential Treatment facility where she lived until October. “Then for three months I rented a room that Mental Health paid for,” said Nylander. “When that stopped, in February, I came here.”

She’s become a mental health advocate for residents at the camp, helping to identify people who might need help, helping them navigate the mental health system, watching out for the more fragile members of the Hangtown Haven community. Nylander keeps the stats for the camp — how many camp members transition out of the camp, how many are working, who is doing well, who needs help. She is the heart of the camp.

“We’ve gone from being a homeless camp to developing a program for transitional living,” said Nylander. “Three out of five residents transition out — to jobs, to school, living on their own  or in a residential facility. We have a case management system with goals along the way.”

One of the goals, Nylander said, might be something as simple as getting up in the morning and washing their hair — her own first goal in the camp.

Nylander wrote a series of short profiles on members of the camp and profiles of those who have successfully transitioned out of it. In her own profile she wrote, “I was a lost soul deep in grief with nowhere to turn. What I found was a family, a faith and a home. I found that by being with people who cared and being safe, I could start to get my feet under me. I found that by caring for others, I could help heal myself. I have found a purpose and a reward greater than I could imagine.”

She has hope that something will happen to enable Hangtown Haven to reopen. “Our Community Council is dedicated to hanging together and finding a way to reopen and we’re dedicated to seeing this camp succeed,” she said.

What Nylander wishes for herself is to have a place to live and to continue working with the homeless population as a career. “My dream would be to turn being a mental health advocate into a paying job,” she said. “I want to help people who don’t want to be homeless.”

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.


Discussion | 30 comments

  • Fran DuchampNovember 03, 2013 - 2:52 pm

    ♥ good luck

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  • robertdnollNovember 03, 2013 - 6:52 pm


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  • Greg LoosNovember 03, 2013 - 7:50 pm

    I had lunch with Becky today and she is delightful, smart and very committed to that community of people. Hangtown Haven is lucky to have her.

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  • Katie ChaneyNovember 04, 2013 - 10:29 am

    She is an amazing woman facing terrible times. Yet her attitude is up beat, hopeful and full of God's love. She is amazing!

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  • Richard GuentherNovember 03, 2013 - 9:01 pm

    Placerville is lucky to have her!

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  • Rene EvansNovember 04, 2013 - 8:05 am

    What Becca really needs is someone to step up and offer her a roof over her head until she can develop the path to making this (or serving the underprivileged) a career. She's a sharp cookie and truly deserving of this kind of opportunity. She is also honest and trustworthy; a trait I can attest to personally. Rene Evans

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  • Phil VeerkampNovember 04, 2013 - 8:24 am

    Rene,I'll toss out some informed speculation. I've never met Rebecca. I've never talked to Rebecca. But I have met and talked with countless "broken" people who are on the path to repair. It is astonishing how their stories overlap. "I was broken and I tried to fix myself by fixing him/her." Codependence is crippling. Fix yourself first, Rebecca.

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  • Oh BrotherNovember 04, 2013 - 8:56 am

    So Phil, with your informed speculation, why don't you share your personal journey with recovery, dependency, codependency, finances and family dynamics since you appear to know and understand these situations so much more than others. Let these people judge the way you chose to do it..

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  • Phil VeerkampNovember 04, 2013 - 9:03 am

    Oh Brother, It is likely that I have already shared more than is appropriate on this forum. You can't be serious in your request. I have told my story in "the rooms". What exactly are you suggesting. Are you saying that hard earned insight cannot be shaired without the intimate details of discovery. Come on, Oh Brother, share your last shrink session with the forum. Never been there? Really?

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  • Oh BrotherNovember 04, 2013 - 9:25 am

    No put downs/advice that is unkind...we all have to take our journey the way that we feel we can best....we are all human beings and I pray can all stick together as much as possible..not one way is the only way...nothing to do with left, right, moderate...human beings..we all have our share of dynamics in our each other. love mankind as best we can. None of us are perfect. And no, Phil, I don't really expect you to share more than is appropriate...just wanted you to think a little and remember a little...there but for the Grace of God go I..

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  • Walk the LineNovember 04, 2013 - 5:46 pm

    Oh Brother, I have read your postings since you started (I think) a few monthes ago, and your opinions are valid as they are your own. I don't recall you being terribly unkind until recently. I think they have pulled you down in the pig poop. Don't let these horrible people who over-post on these threads lead you to the outhouse, they may cover it with honeysuckle/woodbine but we all know what is in there. Most on this site were born on third base yet think they hit a triple. Be you,and be kind, (exept to Cookie65) your better than that. Peace out.

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  • cookie65November 05, 2013 - 8:07 am

    walk the line, I can assist you in your selective version of the leftists "highroad" in political debate. War on women, war on the poor, war on immigration, war on minorities, war on education, sexists, bigots, racists, bitter clingers, teabaggers, repukes, repugs, unpatriotic, umAmerican, uncivil, hostage takers, gun to the head, teahadists, astroturf, corporate tools, anit-union, anti-middleclass, anti-poor, anti-healthcare for all, suicide bombers, knuckledraggers, reversionists, closed minded, intolerant, greedy, selfish, uncaring, ignorant, stupid, mouthbreathers, homophobes, and that is just a small example.

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  • Fran DuchampNovember 04, 2013 - 9:03 am

    Phil wasnt being mean. It is textbook...fix yourself yourself first. She would probably tell her people she works with the same thing...always take care of yourself first.

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  • Melody LaneNovember 04, 2013 - 10:27 am

    I was present when the Hangtown Haven dilemma was presented to the BOS. Through that encounter I met Becky and was invited for a personal tour of Hangtown Haven. Residents are NOT the typical stereotypes of homeless individuals. They are real life accounts of individuals who've managed to rise above insurmountable odds in order to get some order back into their lives. They are to be commended for the pooling of their varied talents, experience and resources. Remember, but for the grace of God go I. Any one of their stories could happen to you or me. It is my hope and prayer that others in the community will reach out with compassion and a helping hand, and in so doing be tremendously blessed.

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  • Simply putNovember 04, 2013 - 10:44 am

    Fran, You must be very close to Phil to know if he was not "trying" to be mean. Maybe you are just a mind reader... Oh I know, you are just an old opinionated chub like the rest. Keep up the good work. People like yourself, an opinionated, nosey, busybody, need each other for support.

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  • Phil VeerkampNovember 04, 2013 - 11:55 am

    I was not " trying" to be mean.

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  • James E.November 04, 2013 - 11:42 am

    I want to thank Ms. Schultz for this series on the Haven. It is a second significant series (the first getting the dog for Hailey) that's a major factor in informing MtDemocrat readers of local interest information. As regards the Haven, I was unaware that it exists on contributions and use of the land by a donor, at no cost to the city. To close the Haven in the face of winter is despicable -- if there is a valid reason for closure, do it next July in good weather. Mayor, if you close the Haven now, you are telling Placerville that your property values on upper Broadway are more important and sufficient reason to put these people out into the cold. But, somehow I don't think you care about people, but are more interested in your purse. Placerville awaits your decision. I hope you prove me wrong.

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  • cookie65November 04, 2013 - 3:01 pm

    James, will the MD's effort to shine a light on the closing of Hangtown Haven and failure of the ruling class to extend their permit get the ruling class to cave?

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  • oh brotherNovember 04, 2013 - 4:40 pm

    Kooky would like me to paste my answer over to this article? I have answered your question and am waiting for mine.

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  • Ed WalshNovember 04, 2013 - 12:41 pm

    Thanks Becky, you such a Blessing to people at the Haven! I'm honored to have you as a friend!

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  • Ed WalshNovember 04, 2013 - 12:42 pm


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  • Fran DuchampNovember 04, 2013 - 1:23 pm

    Simply put...lololol...I dont know him at all...I know the textbook. the best way to help others is to help yourself first....yep--went to counseling for being raped and beaten as a child by people I knew. Ignored the book--at 9 bought black spray paint covered the guys new truck in it--and the "fondling" stopped. I had made sure neighbors had watched me--so he could have called the police--chose not to. One of the curses of my mind. Phil was trying to help. I loved the article--but he is right. If she has things to work for--she is postponing her own heartache. Some of the best people who can help--are people who have gone through the same things. but thanks for the snotty sure Ill learn some important lesson from your words. I hope the best for her and this whole camp. I still think the county should give them ranch land...put the animal shelter with them. Teach them to care for animals--grow food...learn to run a business.

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  • Phil VeerkampNovember 04, 2013 - 2:49 pm

    Hug, Fran!!! - XOXOxoxox - lolol

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  • Edh MomsNovember 04, 2013 - 2:06 pm

    It is so sad how Placerville puts the needs of the good 'ol boys that think they run that run down and drpressing town. I finally hear of some sunshine this town has done - and then they decide to shut it down because of a few "cry babies" worried about themselves. Property valuse go up and down regardless of who and where your neighbor is located. When is compassion and goodness to fellow human beings. These are people who are doing what they can for themselves and others so they do not have to "hit the bottom". Just like bullies to pick on the weaker and push then away. Some of these boneheads I seen on the news complaining should set up camp there for one week in these temperatures without a roof and see what they are doing to someone else! At leave WE have a choice....they don't at this time. Good grief!

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  • Edh MomsNovember 04, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    Pardon my typo's.....but you all know what I mean. If this is what being an "American" and "El Dorado Co. born & raised" means....count me out! Shameful! I pray Becky that you have the tools to stay on your feet! Good work and God Bless!

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  • James E.November 04, 2013 - 3:26 pm

    Cookie, no, I don't think the Mayor is going to cave. Property values always win.

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  • rodNovember 04, 2013 - 4:37 pm

    Simply put / Oh brother... what will you call yourself next? FYI: I had to take a short class as part of my employ several years ago. It was called "7 habits of successful people... first things first" The FIRST requirement for success is nutrition, then shelter. Becky said she had a brother, where is he in this? He cared for his mom... but not his sister/ Why would that be? Becky should first find lodging and secure it via rent... or roommate ... whatever. Many people would like to help the homeless, but they need employment BEFORE doing what they like, its called 'work'... a nasty requirement in a free country. Your not helping Becky by badmouthing Fran, Phil and others with more intelligent direction than the gibberish you offer.

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  • Oh BrotherNovember 04, 2013 - 9:00 pm

    I am sorry if Phil or Fran feel that I think they are mean...that is not the case. I was trying to make a point about what comes across as judgmental. I used to be very judgmental when it came to addiction..I am not an addict and in my pea brain I thought that a person should just be able to stop drinking/drugs...simple right? Well I was humbled when I got involved with a recovery group when I was "helping" a family member who has addiction issues. What an eye opener it was for me when I spent some time with the addicts...not a simple fix...very complex. Also for the family and friends of the addict. Yes co-dependency and dependency are very difficult issues to deal with. So I am sorry if Phil or Fran you felt that I was saying you are mean...not at all the case. @Walk the Line, yes I do believe I have been ungracious at times with my comments...I will work at not coming across like that. @rod, I have never used a different name to blog. hounded me to give you an example which I did and asked you for examples response. Did I say something you can't respond to? Now that would be a very strange first.

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  • Fran DuchampNovember 04, 2013 - 9:21 pm

    Oh worries. It is the nature of the wall--dont ever take anything to heart...I dont. I have been called names on line and in person--people come up to me all the time and tell me how to act....shrugging shoulders--im actually a "nice' person--which throws people ...I have people tell me to mind my manners--now I just tell people "dont care"....but that is not true--there are things I do care about---one is to be as honest to who I am as I can be. sometimes that throws people as well. Im getting older--it is easier to remember stories--if I just tell the truth the first time. However--I am a storyteller--not a "texter"...I need words to play. When people text me--I usually reply "k"--they know if they want to converse with me--they have to call me...lolololol Have a peaceful night...keep posting anything you like...we honor the first amendment here (wink.)

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  • rodNovember 05, 2013 - 8:25 am

    I suggest the Haven be granted the extension sought until May... or whatever date 6 months comes to. Physical health now becomes a priority for everyone and certainly for those with no shelter. BEFORE the end of the extension, concrete arrangements must be in place... no further extension. Plan the work... then work the plan, and it should be started now. Who is in charge of this operation? One more thing, who authorized the 'free food facility' (for lack of proper name) on upper Broadway. Operational plans for such a facility must have included liability insurance, therefore transportation and lodging for clients... homeless included... must have been addressed... or was this a half baked idea. Lets get it together people. Being homeless is a hurdle, nothing more nothing less, been there done that, but fostering false hope is not circumstance.

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