Emergency Homeless Shelter Is Back For The Winter

Ben Castro with RISE trains volunteers to help work with the homeless during freezing temperatures. Image: Ty O'Neil.
Ben Castro with RISE trains volunteers to assist the homeless at an emergency winter shelter set up last year. Image: Ty O’Neil.

The City of Reno today announced the return of an emergency, temporary homeless shelter that will be set up at the Community Assistance Center for the winter.

The large tent will have heat, electricity, and Sani-Huts. There are enough beds for 50 people. Opening tonight, the shelter was called by the city, “a temporary solution to the growing issues of homelessness as winter weather has moved into the region.”

The CAC’s men’s and women’s shelters, and another temporary overflow shelter, have been consistently full, even in summer months, because of the region’s rising homeless population. The tent was erected last year in order to protect the houseless from the elements.

Faith-based groups, such as local churches and Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada (ACTIONN), collaborated on the project.

Reno, County Shoulder the Cost

Both Reno and Washoe County contributed $20,000 while the City of Sparks initially balked at supporting the $60,000 project, according to a source speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Contacted today, though, City of Sparks spokesperson Julie Duewel said that the city is finding how much it is willing to contribute to the tent.

“Per an interlocal agreement with Washoe County and the City of Reno, we pay one percent of our property taxes to the Community Assistance Center run by the Volunteers of America,” she said. “As our assessed value grows so does our contribution.”

To date, Sparks has not contributed financially to the emergency shelter and will not have an answer as to how much it will contribute until early December.

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“As we are the smallest entity, our city manager is currently working on a cost analysis as to how much the City of Sparks can contribute,” Duewel explained. “We will be providing an answer to the City of Reno and Washoe County during the Community Homeless Advisory Board (CHAB) meeting on December 3.”

Sparks’ approach to homelessness has been criticized as being heavy-handed. Controversial sweeps of houseless individuals living on the river have been criticized — some say it is illegal — as being a short-term fix for a broader, complex problem.

Homelessness a Growing Problem Across the West Coast

Homeless shelter in Reno
Reno’s homeless shelter. Image: OurTownReno.com

Reno erected the shelter last winter after the number of indigent people who have died in the elements rose in recent years. Sparks said it helped staff the tent with volunteers, but “Reno made a unilateral decision … to put up the tent and pay for the costs,” Duewel added.

“It’s frustrating that we’re in a position where we need an emergency overflow tent again this year,” said Ben Castro, executive director of the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality, a nonprofit advocacy group. “I hoped we would have made more progress from last year. I know that for many of our houseless neighbors, it feels like there is no light at the end of their tunnel.”

The shelter opens tonight from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. It will be staffed by volunteers from local faith-based groups.

“I am … in awe to see so many members of our community volunteer to endure the cold nights and time away from loved ones to ensure our neighbors-in-need have a safe and warm place to rest,” Castro added. “These sort of collaborative efforts between the City of Reno, the Volunteers of America, and the upstanding citizens of our small valley will literally save lives this winter.”

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The men’s and women’s shelters, located at 315 Record Street, have 208 beds. The family shelter has 102 beds, and the temporary overflow shelter has 150 beds.

Four adults are needed to staff the shelter each night, said City of Reno spokesperson Matt Brown. Any faith-based, corporate or community group willing to help staff the shelter may call 775-848-5859.

Homelessness is a rising problem not just in Reno but across the West Coast.

“What’s to blame for such high numbers of unsheltered homeless on the West Coast? The reason isn’t drug use, mental health problems or weather. Rather, it is due to the extreme shortage of affordable housing,” according to Dr. Margot Kushel, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “Some assume that homelessness is so common on the West Coast because people move here when they become homeless, but data do not support this. Most people experience homelessness close to where they lost their housing.”

Bob Conrad
About Bob Conrad 1135 Articles
Bob Conrad is co-founder of ThisisReno. He manages ThisisReno as publisher and executive editor. He also works part time for the University of Nevada, Reno.