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Homeless situation, shelter conditions debated at homeless advisory board meeting 

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Members of the Washoe County’s community homeless advisory board (CHAB) Monday heard, and presented, conflicting messages about how the region is tackling the homeless crisis. Repeat statements were made about the conditions at the massive Nevada Cares Campus homeless shelter—good and bad.

Government officials presented a rosy picture of the campus and the region’s homeless situation, while others, including advocates and shelter residents, said that perspective was inaccurate and misleading.

Officials praise efforts

Board chair and County Commissioner Alexis Hill praised county staff and more than once tried to frame Cares Campus safety problems as a thing of the past—when the City of Reno opened it in 2021. County staff said emergency calls to the campus are down from two years ago.

“There’s been a lot of safety improvements made at the campus,” Washoe County’s Dana Searcy said. She also said fewer people are getting kicked out of the campus: “That number has decreased quite a bit.”

Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson and Council member Chris Dahir both admitted more work needs to be done but praised city and county staff for their work.

“We’ve come a long way,” Lawson said, adding that the Reno area is doing better than Las Vegas. “We’re so much further ahead than so many other communities that I’m very proud of that fact. I’m more proud that the community’s come together, and we started to break down … silos.”

Reno City Council member Kathleen Taylor also stressed the positive.

“Based on the data and the science, are we making progress?” she asked. “Absolutely, in this space we are.”

Advocates: Not so fast

However, homeless advocate Jake Maynard countered that the board members were misinformed because those living unsheltered aren’t being heard.

“Why isn’t there a free and public transportation option directly from the shelter to allow these people to come speak and tell the stories that are so starkly different from the reports you get every time we have these meetings?” he asked. “The stories are completely different from the people that are on the ground living in these conditions, and those are the people who need to be here expressing the problems they are currently living under.”

Homeless advocate Lily Baran said the conflicting messages about the homeless situation are partly attributable to county officials who oversee homeless services being out of touch.

“Perhaps the contributing factor to these things being so stark—the difference between the people who are actually residents and your reports—is because the office that is supposed to be controlling this is all the way downtown in Reno, and the nicest office I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Maybe being inside the campus doing your job would help dispel some of the myths and some of the things going on.”

She said the community should be concerned with the number of homeless individuals who have died, citing a near-double increase from 2021 to 2022 when nearly 100 people died.

“Next quarter, you will have many deaths to speak about,” she said. “People are dying left and right. It is no longer acceptable to say that these are solutions that are working. They are not.” 

Cares Campus called unsafe by residents

A woman who came to the meeting to speak during public comment said she’s been staying at the Cares Campus for about two months. 

“Your representative for the Cares Campus made it sound like it’s all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s not,” she told the elected members of the CHAB. “The staff needs to be more educated, compassionate and accommodating, especially to those who work and need to get out of there. I challenge all of you on the board to spend a week there undercover, and then you will really see what it is like. We are already pressed and depressed.”

Another person speaking during public comment at the CHAB meeting called the campus unsafe.

“You can’t help nobody if the staff is stealing from you,” the man said. “Cares Campus is not what it’s about. It’s not safe there. They kick you out, go through your lockers and tubs, and take your stuff.”

Another commenter said drugs at the shelter are a problem, including drug use by staff.

“There was … a death in the men’s bathroom of a young man overdosing,” she said. 

Another woman said she was attacked by a man at the campus.

“This same man the next day stabbed a man in the stomach, and that could’ve been me,” she said. “You just gotta go in there one day. Send somebody undercover or something.”

Records obtained by This Is Reno show that there have been more than 20 deaths at the campus from the time it opened through April. In that time, the local homeless population continued to increase despite some officials trying to claim otherwise.

Advocates call for winter plan

Homeless advocates again called for reopening the Record Street shelter and more regular CHAB meetings as winter approaches. Those advocating for people experiencing homelessness said that winter seasons are particularly brutal for those living outside, and reopening the shelter could help alleviate overcrowding and benefit those who may have been kicked out of the Cares Campus.

The City of Reno’s Monica Cochran said the Record Street building is uninhabitable because an elevator no longer works and has a leaking roof. 

“It would take millions of dollars to get it there,” she said. 

Homeless advocate Natalie Handler said repair costs should be presented publicly and discussed if that is why the shelter is no longer being used.

The board did not announce its next meeting, but after the meeting County Commissioner Hill said a new CHAB meeting is being considered. The board in March reduced its quarterly meetings to twice a year, citing progress in dealing with the homeless crisis.

Advocates said they will also make similar requests to the Reno City Council at the council’s Wednesday 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.

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