Officials today said they are closer to having people start occupying a giant tent structure at Governor’s Bowl Park. Two setbacks — February snowstorms, and clay soils at the field which have to be moved — may push the opening to mid-April.
Original estimates were for the shelter to open in March.
“Work has begun to establish a sanctioned camping area at the Governor’s [Bowl] property,” said Acting Assistant City Manager Arlo Stockham. “The county will be developing and operating that facility, and we’re targeting, ideally, to have it available for use at the same time the shelter opens.”
The camping area, located in the bowl part of the area, is for people who may not be interested in staying in the shelter, Stockham added.
Advocates for those living without shelters have pushed for a “safe camp” area, and models around the country show it can work.
“We very much intend to emphasize the provision of services and … the humanitarian aspect of it.”
County spokesperson Bethany Drysdale did not have details about how the camp area would be operated but said, “We are working quickly with regional partners to share the cost and get it launched in the next few months.”
Local governments have had to spend considerable resources addressing riverbank erosion, needles clogging intakes into water treatment facilities, garbage disposed in the river and people defecating in the river. Property owners have received health citations for conditions caused by human activity on properties adjacent to the river.
Advocates say government agencies have not done enough to address these issues. They’ve called for better disposal services, more bathroom facilities and more needle disposal boxes.
Stockham the city and its partners will be conducting outreach when the shelter opens to encourage people to camp at the new location instead.
“We very much intend to emphasize the provision of services and … the humanitarian aspect of it, not take a law-enforcement-focused approach,” he said. “Although, there certainly needs to be support from law enforcement.”
That may be encouraging to homeless activists who submitted numerous letters as part of public comment to today’s Community Homeless Advisory Board, a board comprising elected officials from Washoe County, Sparks and Reno.
They were demanding an increased role for mental health professionals, and less of a role for law enforcement, in working with unsheltered individuals.
“We demand that appropriate funding be allotted to hire professional social workers and mental health professionals experienced in harm reduction, substance abuse, suicide prevention and mental health disorders that can do outreach in support of our unhoused residents,” Natalie Handler wrote for public comment. “The role of law enforcement can not also be the role of empathetic social worker as they contradict one another just as our community has seen time and time again. [An example is] the discriminatory and abusive action of Officer Ryan Gott who led a sweep at the Wells camp on June 3, 2020 slashing people’s tents and using harassing and demeaning language.”
Stockham said the safe camp area would be managed as a safe environment but people “could camp and not be bothered.”
The large tent structure being built, located southeast of the bowl, could house as many as 900 people, while the campsites at the bowl could accommodate about 200. Stockham said those are peak capacities and the initial plan is for about 450 at the tent structure.
The so-called “super shelter” was funded with federal emergency COVID-19 relief funds, but to get complete services at the site could take years as part of phase two and three plans. A suite of services for the people who use the facility are needed, including an intake center, pet facilities and a cafeteria.
That will depend upon community support, such as private partnerships and funding support.
Stockham said the first phase is focused on basic needs: shelter, food, heating, cooling, bathrooms and showers.
“There’s a lot going on, on a very short time frame,” he added.