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Report: Cares Campus unsafe, understaffed and has no housing plan


A consultant who reviewed the Nevada Cares Campus said today the massive homeless shelter is unsafe, understaffed and risks shutting out those in the community who remain unsheltered.

The campus is missing necessary components to reduce homelessness — in particular, a plan to get residents permanent and supportive housing. Safety and staffing were also called into question.

“The campus is understaffed, overwhelmed and the provider is unable to do much more than deescalate conflicts and keep track of who is using the facility,” consultant Jon DeCarmine told the Community Homeless Advisory Board, a board of elected officials from Sparks, Reno and Washoe County. “The current environment is unsafe.”

Jon DeCarmine, a consultant who is also executive director of the GRACE homeless shelter in Florida, presented a report on the Nevada Cares Campus to the Community Homeless Advisory Board. Youtube screen shot.

DeCarmine said the campus has about half of the needed staff to safely operate. County officials blamed the economy and the inability to hire people.

“It’s unmanageable given the staff you have,” DeCarmine added. 

The shelter is also serving more as permanent shelter for the 600 people who stay there on any given day rather than encouraging residents to find permanent housing. 

“Right now, providers in the Northern Nevada Continuum of Care are spending substantial resources managing homelessness,” DeCarmine noted in his report. “Momentum toward housing is not expected, much less required.”

This means those who are still unsheltered cannot use the Cares Campus. 

“An effective emergency shelter plays a key role in the process of ending someone’s homelessness; it is not, however, a destination. Without a length-of-stay policy, shelters quickly become hostels at best and assisted living facilities at worst,” DeCarmine added.

DeCarmine said the shelter’s case management process also needs to be overhauled. 

He said untrained staff can contribute to escalating problems within the shelter.

Pat Cashell, who operates the shelter working for Volunteers of America, said he shared DeCarmine’s concerns.

“It says things that we’ve known all along, as far as the way I see it,” he said. [It] identified things that we’ve identified all along that need to be fixed and corrected or added to that, to the campus — the biggest one being our shortage of staff.”

Pat Cashell of Volunteers of America gave This Is Reno an inside view of the new Cares Campus on June 10, 2021. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno

Cashell said safety concerns are top of mind. A stabbing occurred at the campus, and 911 calls are common. Cashell said most are calls for REMSA service.

Lack of adequate staffing is a chief contributor to safety problems. The City of Reno gave $500,000 for new staff, and Cashell said the money has not been allocated.

“We’re working on payroll and accounting to get those out,” he said. He also said hiring was ongoing with recruitments happening online, on social media and an upcoming employment fair. 

Rapes and sexual assaults at the campus have been reported during public comment at Reno City Council meetings. Cashell said those have not occurred. 

“When you get a group of 600 people together, you’re going to have your disagreements and arguments, but that’s the extent of [the issues],” Cashell said. “You build a building like that [in] 120 days, you’re gonna have some issues, and we’ve done a really good job at eliminating a lot of those issues, but that shortage of staff is my biggest concern.”

This Is Reno has ordered a log of calls for service to the campus, but the Reno Police Department has not yet provided the records.

Advocates: Report’s recommendations mirror their own

Those speaking during public comment chastised the board for canceling the October CHAB meeting while many of the concerns have continued to play out since Washoe County took over management of the campus in August. 

Lily Baran with the ACLU of Nevada said advocate concerns raised for years are basically the same as DeCarmine’s. 

“It is imperative that the CHAB body adopt all suggestions made by the directly impacted, Mr. DeCarmine and advocates,” she said. “This campus has been a failure from the start and not being actually prepared for winter until Dec. 11 is negligent. 

“There are members on the board that requested to meet even less even after hearing it’s not safe, and they have less than half the staff they need to ensure safety.”

County homeless official Dana Searcy admitted there are problems with the campus.

“There are a lot of safety concerns, and we are addressing them in multiple ways,” Searcy said. 

CHAB members called DeCarmine’s presentation “a great discussion” and praised DeCarmine’s candor about the problems at the campus.

Their responses infuriated those who spoke during public comment.

“It’s deeply troubling when folks who are so far away from the problem are also in charge of recommending the solution,” Baran said.

Shelters remain full

Searcy said people who need to stay at the shelter should call ahead — 775-329-4141 — to see if there are available beds. She also said nobody has waited more than four hours for a bed even in the worst weather. 

Advocates for the unsheltered want the former homeless shelter reopened. Searcy said, instead, a partnership with the Reno Housing Authority could allow for use of a heated building on the campus for an emergency shelter. 

“What we have established is that, with such limited staff and all of the services that have just been relocated over to the Cares Campus, it makes sense to keep all the overflow options at the Cares Campus,” Searcy said. “It allows us to best spread that staff out, take care of everybody who needs support and make sure that all the services are still provided.”

Safe Camp to get new pods

Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson, center left, helps Gov. Steve Sisolak cut the ribbon on the Nevada Cares Campus May 17, 2021 in Reno, Nev. Image: Jeri Chadwell / This Is Reno

The Cares Campus’ safe camp area has not held up well, according to Searcy. Sun and wind damage have ruined the tents. Areas were flooded during last week’s massive rain.

The tents are being replaced with what are called “mod pods,” units that will have heating and cooling. The county ordered 52 at $14,000 each. The Nevada National Guard will be deployed to help install them. They are anticipated to arrive in late November.

County Commissioner Bob Lucey questioned their long term use.

“I’d live there. This is amazing,” he said. “This looks more permanent to me.”

Putting a time limit on shelter use is a recommendation made by DeCarmine. But that requires residents to have an exit strategy — permanent, supportive housing, which the Reno area cannot provide.

Social worker Elizabeth Pope spoke during public comment. She encouraged local governments to incentivize developers to build low-income housing to have flexible options for people with “a difficult history of housing. Those are the only ways to get people off of the street,” she said.

Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson said there is no incentive for developers to build low-income housing.  

“Yeah, we got problems — absolutely,” he said.

Watch the meeting

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 and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.




Hammering home the point: Two meetings this week again discuss housing crisis, increasing homelessness

Local elected officials have been hearing similar presentations for years, with the data presented continually painting an increasingly dire picture of housing in the Truckee Meadows and across the state.