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Former insane asylum getting a makeover; will aid homeless

By Carla O'Day

Property that once housed the Nevada Insane Asylum is being converted to “Our Place,” a facility being touted as a new approach to help the homeless in the Reno area gain stability.

Although the Community Assistance Center in downtown Reno currently provides services to individuals who are experiencing homelessness, Washoe County says additional ways are needed to address homelessness.

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

Since Washoe County houses homeless residents in one location on Record Street, it creates issues in an already-challenged environment, county officials say. However, the downtown center for men without spouses or children will remain open. It currently houses 158 men, 50 women, and 42 children, with another 150 overflow spaces.

In an effort to identify barriers and address root causes of homelessness for women and families, the Washoe County Human Services Agency partnered with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services to move them out of the main shelter.

Soon to be known as Our Place, existing buildings along the Truckee River east of Reno are being renovated on the state’s Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services campus to accommodate and serve those experiencing homelessness using a different model.

Total cost for the Our Place renovation is about $11 million and it’s expected to be completed in May and have about 25 staff members, although portions of it will start to open in March.

Our Place will separate populations with the goal of reducing assault, human trafficking, and property theft while providing a tailored approach for each population, according to Washoe County. It’s an outcome-based campus designed to create a safe and stable environment where women and families who are experiencing homelessness are treated with dignity and respect while being connected to services.

For example, the 92-acre campus is expected to house seniors in one area, women in another, people ages 18 to 24 in a separate section, along with families and a childcare center. Clientele counts include 114 women, 102 in the family and maternity care shelter, and 85 youth in the childcare facility.

Bob Lucey
Commissioner Bob Lucey

Washoe County Commission Chairman Bob Lucey said getting people out of homelessness will result in less inmates at the jail, less prosecution work for the district attorney, less time for the judiciary, and less time social workers will spend tracking down patients.

“This will be, I believe, an answer to a growing problem in our community,” Lucey said. “This is one step and something we’ll see continually need to evolve, but this shows the county’s commitment to innovative ideas and willingness to really participate in solutions instead of complaining about problems.”

Lucey encouraged county officials to continue to try and grow Our Place by seeking things such as grants and workforce training.

Our Place has already received cash donations from Women’s CrossRoads, along with cash and vehicle donations from Grace Church. Additionally, inmates from the Washoe County Jail recently helped clean the property and the county is in discussions with the University of Nevada, Reno to service a medical clinic.

The campus opened in 1882 and was then known as the Nevada Insane Asylum, which remained a working farm until the 1960s. It grew alfalfa, fruit trees and vegetables, raised cattle, pigs, and chickens, and had a dairy.  Most of the product from the farm operation was used to feed the patients and staff, with occasional surplus being sold.

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