By Jeri Chadwell and Bob Conrad
Officials from Washoe County, Sparks and Reno joined Gov. Steve Sisolak Monday for a ribbon cutting ceremony marking the opening of the new Nevada Cares Campus and its 46,000-square-foot shelter structure.
Reno City Council member Neoma Jardon, who is the chair of the Community Homelessness Advisory Board, became emotional when she told those assembled for the ceremony that she often reminds herself of an important lesson.
“Lead with empathy,” she said. “You all led with empathy.”
Jardon called the campus—which includes bed space, showers, toilets, storage lockers and kennels for pets—unique in the nation and said the project was proof of people’s ability to set aside divisive politics.
“I think we can all agree that the past year has been one of the most divisive in memory. But this campus brought us all together. Regardless of party affiliation, everybody came together understanding the issue and understanding we needed to take action,” she said.
All but two local officials out of the three jurisdictions with a stake in the campus voted in favor of the creation of the campus. Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus voted against it because of the way the agreement for it was grouped in with multiple agenda items before the council. Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman did not attend the meeting.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve spoke about the services that are planned to be offered at the campus: mental health counseling, addiction counseling, transportation, workforce development training and more.
Pat Cashell with Volunteers of America, which operates the shelter, said today about 200 people were lined up to get signed in to stay at the shelter. He said pets and couples would be accepted, but pets needed to have proof of vaccinations, per animal control.
The Cares Campus is also expected to provide space for safe camping possibly in the fall. The Reno Housing Authority eventually plans to build transitional housing on the site as well.
“You can’t just take someone from a shelter and then put them into a house or an apartment and think that they’re going to thrive. We have to provide other services and other necessities in the community if we want them to be successful,” Schieve said.
She also heaped praise upon the governor, saying, “I’ve got to say, Governor, you’ve got a heart of gold—and this wouldn’t have happened without you. When I called you, you said, ‘Anything you need, Hillary. You know this is important to me, whatever we can do to make sure people have all the services that are so critical to get their lives back on track.’”
Sisolak became emotional when he stepped to the podium to speak.
“I am truly amazed looking at the project, when you get to take the tour and you see the beds inside for folks that otherwise would not have had beds,” he said. “You see the restrooms and the shower facilities. You see the kennels. They have thought of every single detail to make people’s lives whole, to make them real and to give them some sense of dignity.”
Sisolak told reporters after the ribbon cutting ceremony that he hopes the Cares Campus will serve as a model for other cities and communities across the country. It has the capacity to hold up to 900 people, though it is expected far fewer will live there initially.
City refuses to disclose details of impending camp sweeps
Camping along the river and other sites downtown, however, is no longer an option for the unsheltered. The City of Reno has once again begun its camp sweeps but today refused to provide additional details about them, with a city spokesperson only saying the sweeps may occur on Wednesdays.
“Tuesdays are our city-wide meetings to get those specific details and finalize operations plans. Our operations are usually planned week-to-week because needs and dangers change constantly,” said city spokesperson Jon Humbert.
Humbert said the news media and legal observers would only be allowed at the sweeps for a half hour to an hour “to see the areas as our crews prep and the final folks leave the area.”
He also said the homeless encampments are more dangerous than murder scenes.
“No rational person can expect to just waltz up to an active construction site or walk up and poke around at shell casings at a murder scene while detectives are working,” he said. “Those are government operations that are in all honesty safer than many of these encampments.”
Aggressive behavior demonstrated by law enforcement officers during past sweeps is something to which Schieve has objected. Following the ceremony, she told This Is Reno that she wants to see camps on the river cleaned up and disbanded in a less forceful, harassing way but that the potential dangers associated with people living there make sweeps necessary.
“It has to be done thoughtfully,” she said. “I want it done with social workers. I don’t think that, you know, you need the police department there. That’s aggressive. We don’t need that. We need people to understand the population and what their needs are.”
Schieve further said she would address how the sweeps are handled with City Manager Doug Thornley.
“I have always said [sweeps need to be conducted] with the [Mobile Outreach Safety Team] … and county social workers,” she added when told Reno Police were at the Wells Avenue encampment again this morning. “I was adamant after the last clean up. I don’t know why my message doesn’t seem to be resonating but this isn’t the way to handle delicate situations.”
This Is Reno will provide the community with coverage of these activities when they take place.
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.