Before the pandemic, homelessness in Northern Nevada was already an issue. Now, with the addition of COVID-19, shelters in Reno like Our Place, the Eddy House and the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project (NYEP) have had to change how they operate in order to continue protecting those without reliable housing.
The Eddy House and the NYEP are both shelters that specifically serve homeless youth. Our Place, a facility operated by the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Inequality (RISE), plans to house women, seniors and families by June 15. Due to each organizations’ unique circumstances, they all had to make different adjustments because of the shutdowns.
While NYEP was able to keep providing shelter during the initial closures, they still faced their fair share of challenges. At their location on Faland Way, 15 beds are open for women aged 18-24. Young women who are interested in staying at the house can apply to NYEP’s Community Living Program (CLP), which can last nine to 18 months. This program requires residents meet a set of volunteer, job and school requirements to live at the home.
The statewide shutdown interfered with this program immensely. Monica DuPea, the executive director and founder of NYEP, said that COVID-19 has affected a lot of the residents’ employment and schooling plans.
“A couple of the girls have been able to access some online stuff that their school has made accommodations for,” she said. “But many of them are in a hold position.”
So, DuPea and her staff began finding ways for the women to contribute. Almost immediately after the closures were announced, DuPea said they started making masks. They have also been looking into different online learning curricula for the girls so they could continue their education and job training.
In addition, NYEP has had to put in place new sanitizing and social distancing measures. Guests were no longer allowed on the property, the residents had to disinfect the house regularly, and everyone had to wear a mask. It wasn’t until last week that they began easing some restrictions, no longer restricting guests (though, they have to wear a mask) or requiring that residents wear masks.
Although, DuPea said these new rules were met with resistance from some of the residents. She gave the example of having to repeatedly remind the young women to put on their masks.
“It’s been very difficult because [there’s] a lot of pushback from the girls in the house,” DuPea said. “It’s challenging, but I don’t want to focus on that part.”
Expand and contract
The Eddy House struggled in different ways. Earlier this year, the nonprofit opened their doors to overnight guests, which meant they could now give young people without shelter a place to sleep. This new service came with moving into a new 16,000 square foot building, as well as a dramatic increase in staff. Diaz Dixon, the CEO of the Eddy House, said that after this upgrade they were seeing a lot of growth. With more space and employees, he said they were able to serve a lot more homeless youth than before.
But then they closed in March.
“Last year, we served 519 kids…At the end of February, we were at 327 kids,” Dixon said. “So we knew we were going to have significant impact numbers-wise.”
The Eddy House began limiting services after one of their youth tested positive for the coronavirus. At that point, they could no longer provide drop-in services and overnight stays. They also had to limit the amount of staff in the building, at one time mandating that only one staff member could be in the facility at a time.
Diaz said that they were still able to continue providing outside services, such as going out into the community and helping kids on the street by supplying them with necessities like food, clothing, and transportation.
Like NYEP, the Eddy House is gradually loosening restrictions. Drop-in services have returned, but anyone entering must wear a mask. Youth will be able to stay overnight again, but bed capacity has been cut in half in order to properly social distance.
Move, move again
Even though Our Place hasn’t formally opened, its operations have been affected by COVID-19 like other shelters in the area. Their campus, which is located in Sparks, will be a place specifically for women and families. Many of the women and families staying at the temporary shelter at the Reno Events Center plan to move to the new facility.
This transition comes with a few challenges, though. To ensure that residents can properly social distance, RISE has had to limit the capacity of Our Place. This means that not all of the women and families can immediately move on campus due to lack of space.
Jay Kolbet-Clausell, a RISE board member, said that they were able to negotiate having a temporary women’s shelter where clients could wait for additional facilities to be constructed at Our Place. When those spaces are done being built, the temporary shelter would be closed and more people could move in.
“We recognize that these women have been asked to move many times, and will proceed with humility as we ask them to move these two more times,” Kolbet-Clausell said.
Despite all of the other disruptions along the way, Kolbet-Clausell said that people should be coming to Our Place soon.
“Things are happening very fast,” he said. “But we are going to have most of the women and families settled by June 15.”
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