The City of Sparks and Washoe County took some criticism at Wednesday’s Reno City Council meeting for allegedly not adequately supporting efforts to help the area’s houseless population.
The Council unanimously passed a resolution to plan a new overflow homeless shelter at the city’s 250 Sage Street site. Existing shelters, which have nearly 500 beds combined, are full. A temporary tent has been set up on Record Street to prevent the many who cannot sleep in shelters from freezing.
The increased homeless population and respective needs is unprecedented this time of year, said Councilmember Neoma Jardon.
Businessman and mayoral candidate Eddie Lorton has repeatedly criticized Washoe County over this issue.
State law mandates it is the county’s responsibility, he said. “The City of Sparks and Washoe County contribute to the operating cost through an interlocal agreement; however, the City of Reno has borne in all the capital costs up until now.
“Since the homeless issue is clearly the responsibility of the county government, the proposed, new 10-20,000 square-foot shelter … should be the responsibility of Washoe County. The county gets all the federal grants to address the homeless issue.”
Councilmembers said more support was needed from other jurisdictions.
“I wonder … if we are enablers of the county doing nothing,” quipped Councilmember Jenny Brekhus. “It’s easy to write checks over to us … but are we letting them not fulfill their responsibilities? The more we do, the less they do. I believe it is the role of the county.”
Jardon asked for help.
“We have … asked, begged, and pleaded,” she said. “This issue is not diminishing. It is not a Reno-specific issue. It is exploding across the western United States.
“To our neighbors at the county, Sparks, and the state: Help us. I don’t know how else to say it. Just help us.”
It’s not just the county’s problem, said Mayor Hillary Schieve. “It’s a regional problem and everybody better get on board. The county can’t do it alone.”
Councilmember Oscar Delgado, however, defended the county.
“My understanding from talking with the county is that they want to participate,” he said. “They are paying into it. Maybe they might not have a land parcel but they definitely have the professional skills (to help).
“We need to walk hand-in-hand with these guys,” he added.
Sparks Mayor Gino Martini pushed back against the suggestion the Sparks hasn’t been a good partner.
“The City of Sparks takes the issue of homelessness very seriously. We have been an active participant in the regional process since the very beginning,” he said. “While we don’t have any property to assist in potential shelter locations, we have met all financial obligations as established by the Transitioning Governing Board made up of members from the Reno City Council, Sparks City Council, and the Washoe County Board of Commissioners which oversees the Community Assistance Center (CAC).
“Additionally, Sparks (and Reno) residents pay property and sales tax payments to Washoe County, a portion of which provides county-wide social services monies for helping the region’s homeless population in addition to the Volunteers of America (which operates the Community Assistance Shelter) contract.
“The City of Sparks has been a full participant in this shared responsibility, and to say that we have not been, is a gross mischaracterization of the city’s commitment to this important regional issue.”
County Weighs In
Amber Howell, the county’s Human Services Agency director, also explained what the county is doing to address the Reno-area’s houseless problem. She called the Reno City Council commentary unfortunate.
“We are actually the primary funder of the CAC shelter,” she explained. “We also have two permanent social workers that work there to help homeless individuals at the shelter. What the county is striving to do is get people out of homelessness.”
Howell said the county’s Crossroads program has served over 1,200 people with a 98 percent success rate. That’s 1,200 people who were homeless and have not returned to the streets, she added.
“We are taking 170 people off the streets at any given time and addressing their substance abuse, mental health, and housing issues,” Howell explained. “The county spends $6 million on homeless services: $2.4 goes to the shelter and the rest to programming. Our portion is going to increase next year. We’ve continued increasing our support.”
By contrast, she said that Reno pays $774,000 to the shelter and Sparks pays $277,000.
“I think it’s important to point out that the City of Reno approached Washoe County for a building for the overflow shelter,” Howell added. “The county was diligent in exploring options for land and a building. We took it very seriously. We just ended up not having anything in the parameters requested. If we did have land we would have offered it up.”
According to Howell, the Crossroads program costs about $25/day to house a client versus $225/day that taxpayers pay for other services, such as hospital care and law enforcement. She cited what she called the county’s continuum of care approach — not just a shelter — to dealing with a very complex issue.
“I think the county is doing an amazing job tackling homelessness through our programming to end the cycle of homeless,” she clarified.
Dozens showed up to Wednesday’s council meeting in support of the new shelter. A few business owners near the Sage Street site said that they support the initiative, but they don’t like the location near Fourth Street. At least one person has threatened to sue the city if the effort proceeds.
Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas said that Sage Street is not a final location and other properties may be considered. The shelter, including a site plan and construction, is still about two years from being built, according to city staff.
Other City Council News
Provided by the City of Reno
Council adopts new City of Reno Master Plan; Regional Planning will determine conformance
Council unanimously approved to adopt a new comprehensive City of Reno Master Plan consistent with Nevada Revised Statutes. The Master Plan contains guiding principles, goals, policies, implementation strategies, and various supporting maps, including a land use plan map. These components of the Master Plan will guide future decisions related to development and land use, natural resources, mobility, infrastructure, public services, and other issues of interest to the City and its citizens as the City grows and evolves.
Today’s discussion focused on issues brought up at the Nov. 8, 2017 meeting when Council identified a list of policies and strategies they wanted to see changed, bolstered, or clarified. Some of these topics included transportation, historic preservation, water purveyors, floodplains, and economic development. Following a review for conformance with the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan, the updated Master Plan would go into effect. Up until that point, the existing plan will remain in place.
Council directs staff to pursue legal claims against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids
Council unanimously approved to direct staff to pursue legal claims against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids and issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) to law firms interested in representing the City of Reno in litigation to recover monetary damages for the negative impacts of prescription opioids on the City of Reno. The motion included direction for staff to return on Jan. 10, 2018 with a rating of respondents to the RFQ and recommendation for award.
Council votes on Reno Arch Refresh Project
Council approved to move forward with the Reno Arch Refresh Project in the amount of $226,088 from the Room Tax Fund, Capital Surcharge Fund, and Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. In a 4-to-3 vote, Council directed staff to change the Reno Arch background paint color to gray and blue and to change the metal legs from gold to stainless brushed silver. The project includes replacing the damaged skin on the legs, rewiring electrical, repairing the bulb panel on the arched portion and repainting the textured background. Staff was asked to continue to pursue creative funding sources for the color-changeable options, for which there would be an extra cost involved.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.