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County assumes responsibilities for Cares Campus as shelter reaches capacity


Washoe County is officially the lead entity overseeing the Nevada Cares Campus, Reno’s massive homeless shelter at the old Governor’s Bowl Field. 

Officials from Reno, Sparks and Washoe County today approved an agreement designating the county as the lead agency. 

Each jurisdiction will pay into the shelter’s new construction projects and operating costs. Capital costs are estimated at $38 million and annual operating costs are expected to be $15 million.

Sparks pays the least — about $704,000 in operating and nearly $4 million for capital costs. Washoe County will pay $11 million for operating and $26 million for capital costs. Reno will pay nearly $4 million for operating and $8 million for capital expenses. 

The Reno City Council on Aug. 25 approved $480,000 of its allocated $51.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds for premium pay for Volunteers of America workers at the shelter.

According to the staff report on the item, “There has been a 42% turnover rate at the CARES Campus the last 12 months due to attrition and an inability to recruit effectively based on pay and the requirements of the job. This includes outreach, housekeepers, case managers and other support staff.”

Costs questioned

Washoe County Manager Eric Brown said the county will aggressively pursue funding opportunities.

“We are well aware that we need to come up with a model that is financially sustainable — that’s clear,” he said. “The private sector has stepped up in a big way to help us with the capital costs of stages two and three — over $8 million has been pledged. I don’t know that that’s happened before in this area in this community.

“You will see the county much more aggressively pursue grant funding both from the philanthropic community and from [the federal Housing and Urban Development] and other sources that may have not been available to us before…” he added.

Laundry facilities, showers and converting the former bowl part of the ballfield to an open camping area are projects still needed at the campus. 

A row of tents at the Nevada Cares Campus safe camp area is available for people to move into after an intake process by Karma Box Project as of early July 2021. Video Still: Abby Ocampo / This Is Reno

The county’s Dana Searcy said the campus’ fast construction was remarkable.

“This is absolutely an incredible feat that happened,” she said. “We all know it’s not perfect. We know that there are things that have to be addressed.”

Searcy said the number of people experiencing homelessness will ultimately be reduced.

“You will start to see those numbers slowly decrease as we make progress,” she said. “It goes back to sharing data, sharing resources … making sure that we’re talking about each individual at a time. I think that it takes all of us coming to the table to work together so that one person doesn’t go from this program to that program…”

County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung asked what the system of accountability is for people at the shelter who break the rules.

“What are the consequences?” he asked.

Searcy said she didn’t have an answer but said county officials will meet with the Volunteers of America (VOA), which operates the shelter.

“First we’re building the building, then we’re going to dig in,” she added.

Shelter at capacity

More than 600 people experiencing homelessness are being seen at the shelter, which is the shelter’s current capacity. The VOA’s Pat Cashell said that number fluctuates by 30 to 50 beds a night. Come winter the shelter could potentially accommodate up to 900 people, which was suggested as the capacity during initial planning.

Washoe County spokesperson Bethany Drysdale said people will have to be placed elsewhere.

“Washoe County will be taking several steps to address capacity limits at the Cares Campus,” she said. “First, we will look at more appropriate housing options, such as placing veterans in veteran-specific housing. We have 100 emergency beds that we can put up as needed. 

“Second, we are working on increased staffing for the Volunteers of America. We are also working to further secure the campus and streamline the data so we know exactly what the needs are and how to address them,” Drysdale added.

The meeting was held virtually but public commenters spoke at the Washoe County commission chambers. They spoke without masks being enforced.

“Security is not enforcing [masks] while speaking at the podium because the Chambers is empty of meeting participants,” Drysdale said.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.