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Despite toxic mold and ‘years of neglect,’ city manager admits no insurance claims filed for Community Assistance Center 

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Much of the discussion at Wednesday’s Reno City Council meeting was about the city’s former homeless shelter and its dilapidation following “years of neglect.” 

The Community Assistance Center at 315 and 335 Record St. was closed in November 2022. Since that time, it has been subject to over a dozen break-ins and vandalism incidents, according to a memo created by city staff. As recently as the weekend of Sept. 9, the building was broken into once again, during which copper plumbing and electrical fittings were stolen. 

According to the memo, there is significant damage in the building to fire alarm panels, elevators, windows, doors, electrical wires, walls, floors and ceilings. Roof leaks have caused water damage throughout the facility. City staff said the roofs on the campus were used for children’s play areas with playground equipment, break areas for staff, and a garden. 

However, the roofing material was not designed for any of these uses, which led to “serious damage” to the roof and subsequent water damage. A rough estimate was provided to supervisors at $2.75 million worth of damage. 

Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus.
Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus.

The damage did not happen overnight, as community members pointed out, and public commenters and some council members said it was the city’s responsibility to keep the facilities from falling into disrepair. Taxpayers will either have to foot the bill for the repairs or lose the facilities altogether, they said. 

Council member Jenny Brekhus asked for the condition of the CAC to be added to a formal agenda item at a later meeting. Meagan O’Farrell, an advocate for those living without shelter, said she believes the city’s intention is to level the buildings to provide parking for the nearby stadium. 

“If this were to happen, it would be a catastrophic failure on the part of our local government to preserve, maintain and make use of existing resources, and to serve those most in need here in Reno,” she said. 

O’Farrell also said that major efforts were made to construct the Record Street buildings that make up the CAC, which was built in 2007 using more than $15 million worth of funding from charitable foundations and local governments.  

Other commenters questioned how the city could have let the buildings that cost so much time, money and effort to construct fall into “neglect and disrepair.” 

Another homeless advocate, Natalie Handler, said she and other advocates had attempted to reach out to city staff and city council members on a number of occasions to discuss the CAC, all of which were ignored or minimized. Handler asked if the mold was a known, existing issue and if that meant the city was housing individuals and exposing them to the mold. 

Despite the memo stating that “years of neglect” have led to toxic mold, which is “obvious to the naked eye throughout both buildings,” and pervasive throughout the entirety of the buildings, City Manager Doug Thornley claimed the city only learned about the mold two-and-a-half weeks ago. 

Recent discussions on the CAC were partially prompted by the surfacing of the city staff memo, and appealing on an agenda item regarding the renewal of insurance, which includes property damage coverage. 

Despite being aware of the numerous break-ins and neglect of the building over the past year, Thornley said the city has never filed any insurance claim to recoup any of the costs to fix the reported damages. He argued that insurance wouldn’t pay for any of the damages because they would be categorized as “wear and tear.” 

Finger-pointing

Meghan Ebert, Reno City Council member. Image: City of Reno.
Meghan Ebert, Reno City Council member. Image: City of Reno.

Councilmember Megan Ebert asked Thornley why the facilities have not been maintained, not only for the past year, but for the lifetime of the building. 

Thornley said the city is moving away from focusing on supporting homeless services, as it is the city’s opinion the county should be leading those efforts, and instead will focus on workforce and affordable housing. 

The facility was “always underfunded,” according to Thornley, and the city “cobbled together” enough money each year to provide the basics while the county “sorted out what they wanted to do” about providing homeless services. 

In 2017, the county’s then-Human Services Agency manager Amber Howell said the county was spending $2.4 million each year to staff and service the CAC—three times what the city contributed. 

Thornely did not explain why the city constructed and ran the facility for 15 years despite his opinion the county should run it. He did, however, agree that maintenance of the facilities legally fell to the city to provide during the entirety of the CAC’s existence. 

Reno City Manager Doug Thornley. Ty O'Neil / This Is Reno.
Reno City Manager Doug Thornley. Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno.

Ebert pointed out that Reno also built the Cares Campus, which Thornley argued was strictly “out of desperation” since the county was allegedly not providing enough help. Finger-pointing among local governments about the homeless issue has been occurring for years.

Former Reno Council member Neoma Jardon in 2017 pleaded with Sparks and Washoe County to help tackle homelessness. “To our neighbors at the county, Sparks, and the state: Help us. I don’t know how else to say it. Just help us,” she said. 

Brekhus stated that due to the reports of vandalism as well as water damage from burst pipes, insurance claims should have been filed to fix the damages, especially considering the insurance premiums would be doubling. 

“The premium has very little to do with whether we should or should not file a claim against the policy,” Thornley said. 

Thornley said he did not know if the vandalism would be covered by the insurance and admitted to having held no discussions regarding filing insurance claims for the facility. He also said he can “categorically deny” that the city has any conversations with the Greater Nevada Field ballpark regarding the potential to level the buildings for parking. 

Brekhus said a discussion needs to be held related to the future of the building without “executive authority,” presumably from the City Manager’s office, “telling us what’s going to happen.” 

The city previously considered selling the CAC.

“If it goes on the chopping block, if it goes up for demo, I’m going to have a big problem, because we’re losing an asset, an asset I think is being mismanaged by not even filing a claim,” Brekhus said. “You told us there was vandalism. You haven’t talked to the broker about a claim. We could have made up some of this $200,000 potentially. I’m really stupefied on the management.” 

Mayor Hillary Schieve said the council will have further discussions regarding the CAC at a future meeting. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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