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Local governments have no idea how many homeless people are in the area

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on
People living in a homeless camp in downtown Reno had to vacate the area early June 3 as RPD moved in to clean the area. Image: Eric Marks

Local governments continue to grapple with the Reno area’s homeless crisis. A meeting yesterday among Sparks, Washoe County and Reno officials revealed that the number of homeless people documented in the region widely varies.

That’s because each jurisdiction is using different methods to document the numbers of homeless people.

Some estimates are said to be as high as 7,000 people living without a shelter, but official county number of homeless people, as of December, is 1,436, but “most of those people do have a roof over their heads at the moment,” Washoe County’s Dana Searcy said. “We don’t have a very good system in our community right now for sharing all of our data.”

Searcy runs Washoe County’s Built For Zero program that is aiming to correct the problem, particularly by counting people by using their names, or a “by-name list.”

According to the Built For Zero website, “the key components of a quality by-name list include ensuring that your system is touching everyone who is homeless in your community; that you can accurately assess who is entering your homeless system on an ongoing basis; and that you can accurately track their progress through the system…”

Searcy said 76% of the 1,436 are housed in a housing program or emergency center, and  the remaining number, about 340, are verified or assumed to be without a shelter.

“No one in our community has an accurate count of the unsheltered population,” Searcyadded. She cited the annual point-in-time counts, an approved method by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as part of why counts vary among local governments.

“The point-in-time count methodology is not accurate,” Searcy said.

The number last year was 459, so Searcy is working to collect names of people as a more reliable data collection method.

The problem with inaccurate counts was pronounced last week when citizens, rather than governments or elected officials, launched an online fundraising campaign to keep homeless people from freezing and being exposed to snowstorms.

That effort raised more than $50,000 and helped to provide temporary rooms for more than 100 people.

But Searcy said beds were already available.

“I found it quite shocking over the past couple weeks, we put together over 350 empty beds in our community, which sounds like a lot, and it is,” she said.

But they’re not being used because of prohibitive requirements, such as sobriety requirements, no pets or shelters that don’t allow couples.

“When you look at having fewer than 50% open beds and our number of about 300 unsheltered individuals … how do we bridge that gap?” she asked.

Reno Council member Neoma Jardon said the recent snowstorms were a perfect example of the lack of coordination among entities.

“There wasn’t an easy place to point to to say, ‘here’s all the things that we have prepared for, for winter sheltering and who’s doing what,'” she said. “There was some great community action that came forward to help some of our houseless individuals. But it seemed to be that there was a perception that there wasn’t other things that were prepared for and being done, and that’s our that’s our fault for not communicating as effectively as we can, as a body and as a region.”

Super shelter expected to open by April

Last week’s snowstorm has delayed the super shelter at the former Governor’s Bowl by at least a week.

Acting Assistant City Manager Arlo Stockham said it will be tight to have a shelter completed by mid-March.

“The shelter is a good, solid structure, but it doesn’t have a lot of the bells and whistles that we would like to have atthe CARES Campus,” he said. The structure will house 450, including sections for pets and couples. A phase two plan, Stockham said, would need private donations and additional government funds.

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