Freezing temperatures have hit the region and advocates for those experiencing homelessness say, once again, options are limited to keep people from being out in the cold.
The Nevada Cares Campus, which opened in May, has been at or near capacity since that time. There were 604 people there on Oct. 11 with no beds available. There are 14 available beds today, and more people than that are still living on the streets.
That also puts pressure on the safe camp area adjacent to the Cares Campus. The camp area has about two dozen tents but no heat.
The tent area, however, was always considered a temporary but safer place to live than on the streets, said Grant Denton, who operates the safe camp through Karma Box Project.
“In the meantime, it is still the tents in place, but anyone can use the warming center at the Cares Campus,” Washoe County spokesperson Bethany Drysdale said. “We’re also providing transportation [from the Safe Camp] for those who need to get to the warming center at the Cares Campus.”
Drysdale also said new hard-sided pods, rather than tents, were ordered for the safe camp area. They will have heating and cooling but will not be here until an unknown date next month.
That’s not soon enough, said Natalie Handler. She launched a petition calling for Washoe County to provide motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness. She also said the former Record Street shelter should be reopened to handle the overflow of people experiencing homelessness the Cares Campus cannot house.
“Efforts to shield residents from these conditions by providing tarps, heaters and other structures have been largely denied by officials,” the petition states. “The Safe Camp does not provide any additional heating sources. These conditions cannot be allowed to continue. No resident should suffer under our county’s protection. No resident should be subjected to such inhumane conditions.”
Advocates early this year used GoFundMe to raise $50,000. That money was used to temporarily put people in hotel rooms during freezing weather. The effort also caused local elected officials to question why government services were not being used instead.
“We were also able to connect three women and two families with Our Place to begin receiving wrap-around services,” Mary Gilbert with the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality said at the time. RISE runs Our Place. “The main reason for people not wanting to go into an emergency shelter [was] because couples do not want to separate from each other. We need to come up with better solutions.”
Advocates said that even with the massive Cares Campus now online, the problem of access to safe shelter still remains for many Reno-area residents.
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 from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.