Discussing the daunting task of ending homelessness, Washoe County commissioners and the Reno and Sparks city councils listened Monday to various agencies that addressed the topic and sought direction on a cooperative agreement between the municipalities.
Brian Burriss, chairman of Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless, outlined data from earlier this year that showed 3,680 people lived in weekly motels, 452 lived in shelters, 392 were “under housed” and 132 were on the street or in vehicles. Under housed refers to people who are one paycheck or emergency away from being homeless.
“One-hundred percent of properties with rental assistance had a wait list,” Burriss said.
Presenters agreed that more affordable housing is needed and an insurance pool to engage developers would help, as well as requesting each set aside 10 percent of multifamily units for low-income dwellers. The municipalities, state, federal government and various non profits also need to work together so there’s no duplication.
More than once, politicians said they’d be willing to listen to anybody with buildings who’s interested in helping house the homeless.
Commissioner Jeanne Herman went as far to suggest asking people to donate their recreational vehicles as a temporary fix.
“This might sound far out,” Herman said. “But what about an RV park?”
Fernando Leal, who is converting the former Siena Hotel Spa Casino on Lake Street into a Residence Inn Marriott, said he’s donating artwork and furniture to Northern Nevada HOPES that’s not needed during the transition.
“We’ve always believed that if there’s a way to contribute items, it’s the right thing to do,” Leal said.
The Community Assistance Center’s overflow facility was vandalized in February, affecting 110 people, and a temporary overflow area that houses 48 people was since set up on the second floor of the main facility on Record Street. People can’t be kicked off the banks of the Truckee River if shelters are at capacity.
About one-third of people in the shelter have “some sort of income” but they need help getting to it, assistant county manager Kevin Schiller said, and such individuals could potentially be moved out.
Schiller and Reno management analyst Elaine Wiseman said funding for this issue hasn’t increased the past 9 years. Additional services and 110 more overflow beds are being sought, along with $2.6 million — up from $1.9 million last year. The cost would be divided between the three governments.
The Community Assistance Center Transitional Governing Board should have addressed this before budgets were outlined, said Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, the board chairman. The fiscal year starts July 1 and tentative budgets have already been drafted, meaning Sparks wouldn’t be able to fund its share based on the $700,000 increase request.
“The Transitional Governing board should’ve taken this up months ago before budget time,” Martini said. “I’m sorry for not meeting sooner. I agree we need to spend more on homelessness but it’ll be difficult for us to come up with $140,000.”
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“We have a multiple enablers in our community called casinos,” Commissioner Vaughn Hartung said. “They give out free drinks. I don’t know how we solve this, but it’s a huge issue.”
Hartung said his wife has worked in casinos and she’s told him she’s seen patrons in there who she saw soliciting cash at street intersections hours earlier.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said she’s spoken with homeless people and has heard stories of predatory lending. For example, someone told her their $2,000 payday loan carried $800 in interest.
“We have to look at ways people prey on the homeless,” Schieve said. “How to you break out of that? How can we get stricter codes in place?”
Operation Downtown’s Kenneth Krater told the politicians that it costs 10 to 15 times more to have people on the streets, who are often in and out of emergency rooms. He said the situation is fixable and can clear up law enforcement’s time.
“Fortunately, we’re not Chicago. We’re dealing with dozens of blocks, not hundreds of blocks,” Krater said. “Don’t treat drug use as a crime. Treat it as a health issue.”
Staff from the Crossroads Program, which assists with transitional housing, gave examples of how homeless individuals tax the system. For instance, one of its male clients called REMSA 109 times and had more than $150,000 in hospital bills at a total cost to the community of about $300,000 in a year.
“Some of us were fortunate to get a moving truck. Others have to rely on the selflessness of others.”
HOMELESS, ADVOCATES SPEAK OUT
Lisa Lee, who was once homeless, said services and social support has helped her remain stable. She bought her home in 2007.
“What got me off the streets was housing,” Lee said. “Today I own my own home, I’m a graduate student and now I’m a housing case manager.”
Residing in the 600 block of North Center Street, Kathleen Harris said she’s one of several tenants affected by the future Standard at Reno development. Tenants are supposed to vacate by the end of June and relocation expenses are needed, she said.
“Some of us were fortunate to get a moving truck,” Harris said. “Others have to rely on the selflessness of others.”
Finding a new place to live has proved difficult for Harris, especially since many rentees require renters to earn 2 1/2 times their monthly rent.
Northern Nevada HOPES chief operations officer Ivy Spadone spoke about one of her homeless clients who lost his casino job several years earlier. He slept upright at night in the shelter because there was no room to lay down and sometimes he couldn’t take his medication because it was stolen.
“He was the nicest guy and tried real hard but circumstances weren’t there to help him,” Spadone said. “He passed away by himself in a motel room last week and would’ve like to have told his story.”