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Coronavirus Disperses Reno’s Homeless, Events Center Used For Emergency Housing

People lining up along the outside of the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nevada.
Brian Bahouth
The Sierra Nevada Ally
The downtown Reno Events Center has been converted into a temporary homeless shelter. The 118,000 square foot, multi-purpose facility opened on Saturday, March 21 and will be used to house people in an environment with social distance protocols in effect.

Over the weekend, the Reno area’s largest homeless shelters closed in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The City of Reno opened the downtown Reno Events Center for more spacious, emergency housing. While many took advantage of the new lodging, some are afraid of the close confines of mass shelters, no matter the size.

The Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission and three Volunteers of America shelters closed because social distancing protocols could not be safely maintained amid the steadily encroaching novel coronavirus. The line to get into the downtown Reno Events Center was a city block long.

Shawn Burroughs and her husband, Shawn Holstius, have been living outside for weeks and were sleeping somewhere near Wingfield Park in downtown Reno on Saturday night. Together, the couple said because the novel coronavirus pandemic is looming, they’d rather spend the night outside, despite the cold and snow.

“I slept all night last night with two gloves on and three pairs of socks and I was frozen,” Holstius said.

“Look sir, this is all we have … this is all we have,” Burroughs said, pointing at a plastic shopping bag and a purse.

According to Holstius, lawlessness and violence in the homeless community have been rampant since non-essential businesses have closed. Fear of the coronavirus has driven many into isolation.

“We got robbed … our clothes, our food, our tent, everything. The homeless steal from the homeless. That’s just not right,” Holstius explained.

How long the center will remain a shelter is unknown. All events have been canceled for at least 30 days to comply with the Governor's emergency declaration, but for now at least, more people in Northern Nevada are in a safer situation than they were the day before.

KUNR Contributor Brian Bahouth is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Sierra Nevada Ally. You can read more of this specific story here.

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