Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday reheard two items on projects at the Nevada Cares Campus and approved both, reversing denials issued at the March 28 meeting. New commission member Clara Andriola provided the third yea vote on each item to secure passage.
The presentation and public comment regarding both projects – a $28 million contract for construction of an intake center and a land lease for development of 120 units of permanent supportive housing – were a complete reversal from the prior meeting.
This week, business owners and community advocates were in chambers and spoke in favor of both projects. Commissioners also heard presentations on both projects from the county’s Housing and Homeless Services Manager Dana Searcy. Neither of those aspects were part of the decision-making process in March.
Searcy pointed out the benefits of continuing work on the Nevada Cares Campus, including moving people out of emergency shelter, saving taxpayers more than $1 million a year in homeless services, and improving quality of life for people experiencing chronic homelessness.
Both projects are largely funded by American Rescue Plan Act funds, which must be obligated by the end of 2024, along with federal grants and capital campaign funds. The county’s general fund isn’t affected, Searcy said, and if the funds aren’t spent on the Cares Campus the bulk will be returned to the state or federal government for other projects.
Searcy also brought Jerry Kappeler to the podium to speak. Kepler is a social worker and the primary housing developer for ASI Inc. in Nevada, the company selected to build supportive housing at the campus. Kappeler said ASI not only has successfully developed supportive housing, senior housing, and units for veterans, but his company has programs to help residents of those communities improve their lives.
“We have 618 units in this state. We have over 17,000 people on our wait list for housing. That’s how much because of the affordability issue,” Kappeler said. “This is a great partnership potential and your ability to make this project real or not happens today because there are timelines on the development process. We’re here to partner with you to try to meet the needs of the community.”
Advocates added that finishing work at the Cares Campus and getting people off the streets is good for business and better for the community’s cleanliness and safety.
Many of the same people that spoke against the projects at previous meetings restated their concerns with both. Opponents said too much has already been spent on the Cares Campus and outcomes have yet to be seen.
Commissioner Mike Clark, who previously said he wouldn’t support Cares Campus projects until he saw outcomes, took a different approach this week. Regarding the ASI lease at the site, he expressed concern over remediation of petrochemical tanks on the property and said the project felt rushed.
Searcy said discussion of development at the Cares Campus has been discussed multiple times each month over the past year-and-a-half, including at every Community Homeless Advisory Board meeting and at multiple commission meetings.
“I just want to get my message on the record today so if and when it does come back we have the political will to then pump the brakes and stop this thing,” Clark said. “I want to make sure it’s very clear than I’m on the record of supporting whatever you want to do to help the homeless here…However I want it to be on the record that I don’t want to have to tell you ‘I told you so.’”
Dwayne Smith, the county’s director of engineering and capital projects, said the tanks had been addressed through a remediation plan and funding for their removal was being sought.
“What I’m hearing is there are some uncertainties moving forward with this…but we have so many partners coming to the table to help support this project,” Commission Chair Alexis Hill said. “I believe that this is an essential part of our homelessness program because it’s housing, and that’s how you get people out of homelessness.”
Searcy also shared some of the outcomes at the Cares Campus that Commissioner Clark had asked to hear.
She reported a decrease in law enforcement and emergency medical service responses, a 46% decrease in unhoused individuals in the annual point in time count, and triple the number of permanent housing placements since May of 2021.
A new data point Searcy said was being shared for the first time was the recidivism rate of people returning to using homeless services within six months of gaining housing. That rate dropped from 37% for the first half of 2022 to 26% for the second half of that year.
“Seventy-four percent are staying housed,” Searcy said.