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Homeless Shelter At Reno Events Center Slated To Close

A building that says, 'Reno Events Center.' There is a man walking in front of the building and a line of people near the entrance.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Houseless individuals line up outside of the Reno Events Center on Monday, June 8, in Reno, Nev. The facility has been transformed into a makeshift shelter, but it will become unavailable at the end of June 2020.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 300 houseless individuals have been sleeping at the Reno Events Center, but the makeshift shelter is slated to close at the end of June. Washoe County and City of Reno officials are working on securing a place for those staying at the facility to sleep next.

Washoe County Works On Relocating Families And Women

The Reno Events Center was transformed into a shelter for houseless individuals toward the end of March 2020. Individuals were moved from the existing shelters at the Community Assistance Center (CAC) campus on Record Street, and an overflow shelter on Washington Street, located in Reno.

City officials said there is not enough space for unsheltered individuals to practice social distancing at the CAC campus, thus the move to the Reno Events Center, where 375 beds are spaced apart in one large room.

On average, about 250 to 275 houseless individuals have slept in the shelter every night, according to Jon Humbert with the City of Reno.

The Reno Events Center is halting its shelter operations in order to reopen for its original purpose: events.

All of those individuals will need a new place to sleep by the end of June.

Families began moving into a new shelter called Our Place in Sparks, on June 8, according to Washoe County Assistant Manager Kate Thomas.

Our Place is operated by the nonprofit homeless advocacy group called the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE). Washoe County funded the shelter, which cost about $20 million.

The seven-building shelter is still under renovation, but about 20 families are currently in the process of being moved in, according to Thomas. She said Our Place will have a robust child care facility, which will take some stress off of people’s shoulders.

"There is a big, greatly increased capacity child care facility on the Our Place campus, which is where those children will be relocated," Thomas said. "One of the hurdles for someone experiencing homelessness is if they're working, [finding] an appropriate place to put their child during the day. The Our Place campus will give a more secure location for those kids. We're going to have some security; it's a dedicated building rather than having them sort of mixed in with the other population."

Our Place will have the capacity to shelter 114 women and 28 families, but women can’t move into Our Place until August. Washoe County is working on a place to shelter women currently living in the Reno Events Center until then.

Thomas is scheduled to present a lease to the Washoe County Board of Commissioners on June 16 to allow women to stay in the existing overflow shelter on Washington Street in Reno. That shelter has been used for about three years when the shelters on the CAC campus are at capacity during the winter, according to Thomas.

"The Commissioners are extremely supportive of what we can do to help these populations. It's one of their strategic objectives as a commission," Thomas said, "They've put their money where their mouth is by dedicating over $20 million to supporting the women, and the children, and the regional homelessness issue through the Our Place campus. So I'm quite sure they'll be supportive of putting these women in a safe location while the downtown events center becomes unavailable. The safety of these folks is really their top priority. It also saves quite a bit of taxpayer dollars since that facility is already there."

Thomas said the City of Reno is in charge of relocating the men who are currently staying at the Reno Events Center.

Citing Concerns About Social Distancing, No Set Place For The Men To Go

A sign on railing that says, "Line-Up Will Start at 7PM."
Credit Lucia Starbuck / KUNR Public Radio
KUNR Public Radio
Signage outside of the Reno Events Center, which has been serving as a shelter for roughly 300 houseless individuals on Monday, June 8, in Reno, Nev. The facility will become unavailable at the end of June 2020.

Out of the roughly 300 individuals currently sleeping at the Reno Events Center, more than 200 are men, according to the City of Reno’s Acting Assistant Manager Arlo Stockham. He said the City has not determined where men can sleep when the Reno Events Center becomes unavailable.

“We're looking fairly broadly. Ideally, the fewer locations, the better, just in terms of the staffing costs. So breaking them out into multiple, different locations is kind of the easiest logistically, but it's the most costly to staff," Stockham said. "I can't share specific locations, discussions are in process, but we're looking at vacant buildings, we're looking at vacant land and potentially doing temporary structures, or some combination thereof."

Stockham said the City is looking for a place to house men for over a year in anticipation that social distancing practices will still be required to limit the spread of COVID-19.

"We don't know how long we're going to have social distancing, but as best we can tell, it's probably going to be with us for upwards of a year. So it's not feasible to keep the Reno Events Center closed to events for a year. We need to find that medium-term solution until we get past the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stockham said.

When asked if it is concerning that the City of Reno has not nailed down a place for the more than 200 houseless men to sleep after the Reno Events Center becomes unavailable, Stockham said yes.

Stockham said, ideally, the City of Reno would like to secure a large facility, like the Reno Events Center, to shelter houseless men.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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