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Washoe County to Fallon nonprofit: Stop busing those without shelter to the Nevada Cares Campus

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Washoe County officials have long said that nobody in need of shelter will be turned away from the Nevada Cares Campus. According to internal county emails, however, that stance has changed. County officials recently told a Fallon-based nonprofit to stop busing people experiencing homelessness to the Nevada Cares Campus. 

The nonprofit’s director said, however, he has no plans to stop.

“Fallon and other surrounding areas face significant challenges in addressing homelessness, with limited resources for housing, mental health services, and addiction treatment,” said Chuck Doucette with REAP America. “The transportation we provide is not an attempt to offload our responsibilities but rather an interim measure to connect individuals with the services they desperately need, which are currently unavailable in our immediate area.”

“I don’t go around looking around for people to fill up their shelter. They come to me.”

According to an email by Washoe County Manager Eric Brown, Doucette initially said he would stop referring people to Cares Campus. On Thursday, however, Doucette told This Is Reno that he would continue the practice because the need was so great. He said that if he gets a request, he refers people upon request. Doucette said he has been doing so for four years when the Nevada Cares Campus opened.

Assistant County Manager Kate Thomas said REAP should pay Washoe County if the organization continues to transfer people to the campus. People coming from Fallon to the campus will be “turned around at the gate,” she wrote.

“We should discuss appropriate compensation for the services if continued to be allowed,” she wrote in an internal email. “The funds to build and support these facilities are generated in Washoe County for Washoe County residents. Much like payments to other rural areas for our Medical Examiner services, we cannot afford to support other communities without some arrangement.”

Doucette, however, said communications from Washoe County “seemed kind of threatening,” and he did not think he was doing anything wrong.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I’m not an attorney. Last week, I did not provide transportation to anybody to the shelter, [but] I’m not really sure they’re correct that they don’t serve the region.” 

He added that nobody at the Cares Campus has raised an objection in the past four years he’s estimated to have sent about 100 people there on his “shelter shuttle.” Doucette said he calls ahead to ensure there are available beds.

“I’m going to continue to do it,” he said on Thursday. “I don’t go around looking around for people to fill up their shelter. They come to me. I’m going to refer you to Reno or Las Vegas. It is their obligation to take care of the people in the northern Nevada community.”

He added that Nevada’s largest cities have all the significant resources, and he found nothing legally that would prevent him from referring people to the Nevada Cares Campus.

“I’m not trying to skirt the rules,” Doucette said. “Let’s clarify this: Does the Nevada Cares Campus service the region or just Washoe County?”

At the May 13 Community Homelessness Advisory Board (CHAB) meeting, the county’s Dana Searcy said they haven’t seen many people come to the Cares Campus from out of state but that there is “a lot of movement within the state of Nevada” because the shelter offers services not available elsewhere. She said staff was adding questions to their intake forms to identify where people were living previously.

At that same meeting, Washoe County Commission Chair Alexis Hill said she was aware of some rural counties busing people to the Cares Campus. 

“That’s something that we are looking at as a region,” Hill said, adding that Brown would be contacting other county managers to discuss the issue. “Those counties — we want to help people but they have to pay their fair share.”

Washoe County officials did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Churchill County Manager Jim Barbee said he was not made aware of the practice until recently, and the county will consult its district attorney on the matter. 

“We don’t bus people to other jurisdictions,” he said, adding the same point Doucette made: Churchill County has limited resources to deal with 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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