Home > News > Government > Washoe County has highest rate of homelessness in Nevada

Washoe County has highest rate of homelessness in Nevada

By Kristen Hackbarth

County officials say Cares Campus is worth the expense

Washoe County’s Dana Searcy on Tuesday said the programs and shelter provided at the Nevada Cares Campus to reduce homelessness are more cost-effective than inaction and better for the region as a whole. Her comments were part of a presentation to the Washoe Board of County Commissioners at their regular meeting.

“You can see that there is a business case that moving people into a campus, providing appropriate services and moving them into permanent housing is more effective than not,” she told commissioners.

Searcy said Washoe county has the highest rate of homelessness in the state at 26.1 people living homeless per 10,000 residents. The state average is 22.4 per 10,000 people. Nevada is ranked 10th in the nation for rate of homelessness according to data from U.S. Housing and Urban Development, she said.

Despite millions of dollars spent by Washoe County and other local governments and agencies on sheltering the region’s growing homeless population and providing services, Searcy said it was money well spent and a cost savings over not providing shelter and support.

She said damage to the local economy and environment, along with increased jail and medical expenses were all potential consequences of inaction on supporting the county’s homeless population.

EDITORIAL MEME by Darren Archambault. Darren is a graphic designer, meme artist, musician and political activist. When he is not doing freelance design or music, he is creating political editorial style memes, and co-running Reno/Sparks Mutual Aid.
EDITORIAL MEME by Darren Archambault. Darren is a graphic designer, meme artist, musician and political activist. When he is not doing freelance design or music, he is creating political editorial style memes, and co-running Reno/Sparks Mutual Aid.

The Cares Campus costs $16 million each year to operate, averaging out to about $73 per bed night if it’s at capacity. That cost includes shelter beds and meals, shelter staffing and all of the supportive and health services clients receive. 

Searcy said the costs of inaction are much higher. She cited data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which calculates that a person experiencing chronic homelessness costs taxpayers about $44,000 per year, or about $120 per day.

“This is significant, and this circular system that we’re caught in really is not resulting in the housing outcomes that we’re hoping for,” she said. 

Following the addition of supportive services at the Cares Campus, calls to emergency services have gone down and permanent housing placements have gone up, Searcy added. 

The need for ongoing efforts at the Cares Campus is coupled with the need for more affordable housing options in the region, she said. 

Searcy’s presentation included a chart showing the number of affordable housing units remaining fairly flat at around 29,000 while over the past seven years average rent has increased by more than 70% and those living unsheltered has increased by nearly 600%. 

A chart from a Washoe County presentation showing the region’s rising cost of rent in comparison to number of affordable housing units and number of people living homeless. Washoe County’s Dana Searcy used this chart to show the need for expansive homeless services and greater regional collaboration for affordable housing.

“In an environment right now where our housing market, our affordability, is really difficult to navigate, we have been able to double housing placements – permanent housing placements,” Searcy said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Following Searcy’s presentation, commissioners approved a $1.4 million contract with Well Care for housing and supportive services for men transitioning from homelessness in the Men’s Crossroads Program. The sober living community includes health care, housing and other supportive services. 

The one-year contract was approved with potentially four one-year renewals costing slightly more each year.

Ballots on the way

County Manager Eric Brown said the county has received a number of complaints from voters that their mailed ballots haven’t yet arrived. Brown said the county is working with the U.S. Post Office to get the ballots out, and they were delivered to be mailed by the Oct. 18 deadline. 

“We are working with the U.S. Postal Service representatives to figure out what’s going on, and they’re being very cooperative,” he said. “There’s a lot of mail that has to be distributed through various postal systems, and that appears to be causing us a delay. If people are concerned and you want to receive another ballot, you can contact Washoe311.”  

The county was prepared to mail ballots earlier than required for the general election, but several errors on some ballots were found and some ballots had to be reprinted. 

Brown also said in-person voting at any of the county’s early voting centers or on Election Day are also available. 

See This Is Reno’s voting guide for a list of early voting locations. 

Commissioner appointments

Each of the five county commissioners serve on a number of boards and other commissions as part of their duty to the county. Outgoing commissioners Bob Lucey and Kitty Jung both are reducing their commitments before leaving office at the end of the year.

Vice Chair Alexis Hill took over Jung’s board positions for Open Space and Regional Parks Commission and the Senior Services Commission. She also will fill Bob Lucey’s seat for the District Board of Health and shift from alternate to primary on the Regional Transportation Commission in lieu of Lucey.

Commission Chair Vaughn Hartung will sit on the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority board, filling Lucey’s seat.

Never miss a story

Get independent Reno news headlines in your inbox five days a week.

Email field is required to subscribe.