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County homeless count shows a continued increase in those living without shelter 

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Washoe County on Tuesday released data showing homelessness continues to increase in the greater Reno area. The annual point-in-time count (PIT) shows “a slight increase in the single-day count,” according to county officials.

The county last year claimed the PIT showed a 50% reduction in unsheltered homelessness, but that claim was inaccurate. PIT counts are not accurate measures of homeless populations, which shift because people regularly move in and out of homelessness, and PIT counts are only a snapshot in a brief period of time.

The 2021 PIT was used to claim, incorrectly, that the Reno area has seen a 50% reduction in homelessness. Local officials, including Mayor Hillary Schieve, used that figure in an attempt to make Reno look better to national media outlets. The National Public Radio “Here and Now” show recently interviewed Schieve, and the host, Deepa Fernandes stated Reno “cut homelessness dramatically over the past year.” 

This Is Reno fact-checked this claim, which was repeated in national news last year, and determined it to be both misleading and false. The county’s “built for zero” data are considered more comprehensive. Those data show that in January the population of those living without homes at 2067, down by about 450 people from the same time last year.

That, too, is not an accurate reflection of homelessness. This Is Reno’s review of various data collected over nearly two decades, shows Reno’s homeless population has remained consistent but increasing over time. The county continues to insist, however, that homelessness is on the decline.

County officials said on Tuesday that, “While the Built for Zero monthly homeless count reflects a slightly different methodology of counting people who have activity within the last 90 days in the regional database, monthly year-over-year comparisons show reductions in the number of people experiencing homelessness. This is consistent with the reduction in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the 2021 PIT Count, which was 780.”

The county’s long-term sheltered and unsheltered homelessness data do not support this claim, however. The county is basing its claims of reduction in homelessness using 2021 as a baseline, however numbers of people living homeless both sheltered and unsheltered have increased over the last decade.

Between June of 2021 and December of 2023 – the time when the county began using better tracking – the numbers fluctuated but still show an increase through today. The data show an increase from 907 in January of 2015 to 1690 in January of 2023.

County officials acknowledged they use two different sources of data to track homelessness, each with its own methodology, but they would not explain how any of their data show a decrease in homelessness.

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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