Story by Jeri Davis | Video by Bob Conrad
The Nevada Cares Campus homeless shelter—dubbed a “super shelter” by local officials—is slated to open at the old Governor’s Bowl site off of Fourth Street by April 1.
Jon Humbert, City of Reno spokesperson, said the shelter was originally intended to open in March. However, recent snowstorms have slowed down work, he said, adding that the project is still weather dependent to some degree while things like concrete are still being poured.
In addition to showers, bathrooms, warming tents and day-use areas, the site will include a new 46,000-square-foot shelter space.
The Reno Housing Authority will also have space at the Nevada Cares Campus, Humbert said, and may “potentially, down the road” put in “some lower income and transitional housing things similar to Village on Sage Street and the HOPES campus,” which will offer individual housing spaces to unsheltered people when it opens.
The costs of acquiring the land from the State of Nevada and private owners was paid for using federal CARES Act dollars awarded to the region’s three government agencies. The City of Reno contributed just over $9 million. The City of Sparks put in $3.75 million, and Washoe County allocated nearly $4 million. While the City of Reno paid the largest share of this out if its CARES dollars—54%—the bulk of the costs of operating the site going forward will fall to the county.
“Construction, again, is just the first part,” Humbert said. “Knowing that we have an ongoing liability for costs for this, the breakdown was around 70% for Washoe County moving forward, 22% for the City of Reno and 8% for the City of Sparks. So the goal there is to have these operations fully funded moving forward.”
Humbert said the local jurisdictions have also sought public-private partnerships with community groups to fund operations going forward and spread the word about the opening of the new space.
“We know as councilmembers have stated and the state has stated, we can’t have this be an area that we just throw money into and don’t get a return,” Humbert said. “We want to make sure that this is quality from the start, but that does take money.”
Humbert said the City of Reno will begin more rigorously enforcing camping ordinances and moving people from sites near the river after the shelter is operational. However, he said there is not currently a timeframe for this since it will be necessary to allow time for the shelter to become fully operational.
“Are there legal triggers that allow us, so to speak, to move people along under the auspices of what the Supreme Court has decided? Yes, but this is a humane approach—and it always has been,” Humbert said. “So, we’ve had pretty good success with cleanups without requiring people to move over the last few months.”
Reno Police officers in June of 2020, however, issued citations for illegal camping, and harassed and threatened the homeless under the Wells Avenue overpass. Members of the Mobile Outreach Safety Team stood by as one officer screamed at homeless people and cut through their tents with a knife.
Police also ordered journalists off the site and dispersed more than 250 people — against CDC guidelines for how to treat the homeless during the pandemic.
Humbert said if there is anything resembling a silver lining to come along with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the ability for local governments to use relief funds to address the region’s inadequate shelter options for homeless residents. He said it’s an issue that has needed to be addressed for years.
“As dark as these times have been for nearly a year, in a way COVID and the pandemic was a game-changer for the ability to do any of this at all,” he said. “Because so many of our local governments are strapped for cash in a way we’ve almost never been since the recession, the CARES Act on a federal level provided millions of dollars for our jurisdictions to be able to do something.”
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.