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23 people have died at the Nevada Cares Campus since opening in 2021

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More than 20 people have died at the Nevada Cares Campus, the region’s massive homeless shelter, since it opened in May of 2021. Five people died there in 2021, 14 in 2022 and four last year. One person recently died at the 15-acre campus from a suspected drug overdose.

Most causes of death are natural, but others are because of drug overdoses. One person died of asphyxiation. The medical examiner defines natural causes of death as a natural disease or medical condition. Washoe County confirmed there have been six fatal drug overdoses at the property since it opened. Drug use violates the property’s rules. 

“[The recent individual’s] death is still being investigated, but we know the loss, no matter the cause and no matter the location, must be devastating to his family and loved ones,” county spokesperson Bethany Drysdale said.

Washoe County Commissioner Mike Clark, who is critical of the county’s management of the property and shelter operations, accused the county of hiding information about the conditions at the campus.

“We hear from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office about jail deaths, and the county buries the information about deaths at the Cares Campus,” he told This Is Reno.

Clark said there has been a breakdown in communication at the county, and it took him contacting three high-level officials before he got an answer about the recent suspected overdose. He said he was only told about it when he repeatedly asked. 

“The whole campus knew about it, and the county manager is claiming there was [a communication breakdown],” he said. “That’s my concern. I don’t know if it ever would have been disclosed if somebody hadn’t disclosed it to me.”

Drysdale disputed that Washoe County was hiding information—data were quickly provided to This Is Reno upon request—but she acknowledged the county does not issue press releases each time a death occurs at the campus.

County officials have touted improvements in safety at the campus but could immediately not provide updated data on incidents of violence or the number of people banned from the campus for violating rules. In 2022, the campus was seeing as many as a dozen police and medical calls a day, according to Washoe County Security Administrator Ben West. 

Drysdale said news of the recent suspected overdose was made known to her through an inquiry from This Is Reno. She said that while drugs are not allowed on the campus, they have been brought on campus in violation of clearly stated rules.

In one instance, a client at the campus took what was thought to be a Tylenol given to the person by another client. It turned out to be fentanyl. The person taking the drug overdosed but survived.

“The person who took it and overdosed was kicked out, but he appealed it, and he was allowed back in,” Drysdale said. “Drugs are not allowed on campus; if you are found using them, you will be asked to leave. I think we can safely assume people bring things in that are not allowed, [and] if found, they are asked to leave.”

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness continue to say the campus is unsafe and consistently at or near capacity.

“It’s barbaric,” said Lily Baran, who advocates for those without shelter. “It shows they don’t understand the landscape of this issue. We haven’t had a [community homeless advisory board] meeting since September, and we’ve been asking for one person with lived experience to be on that board. That has never happened.”

She said she is very concerned about the safety at the campus. 

“I’m so disappointed,” she said.

This story is developing and may be updated.

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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