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Breaking down why one of two domestic violence shelters in Washoe County may be closing

A reflective exterior door with text that reads, “Safe Embrace Office Hours Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 24-Hour Hotline 775-322-3466.” There are clouds and trees in the reflection.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Safe Embrace provides resources for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking.

One of two emergency shelters for victims of domestic violence in Washoe County has been ordered by a judge to close later this month. KUNR’s Jose Davila IV sat down with Lucia Starbuck to learn more.

Jose Davila IV: Before we get into this complex lawsuit, what can you tell me about Safe Embrace and what they do in the community? 

Lucia Starbuck: Safe Embrace provides resources for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking. That support includes a 24-hour crisis hotline, emergency transportation, counseling and legal services. Safe Embrace also connects clients with housing assistance and operates an emergency shelter. Here’s executive director Afshan West.

(SOUNDBITE FROM AFSHAN WEST): Our shelter is, it’s a home. It’s beautiful. It’s very peaceful. It is on one acre lot, and it has a play structure. It has a healing garden. We also have a pet shelter on site.

Starbuck: There are currently seven women and seven children staying there. The shelter has operated at reduced capacity, with 18 beds available, during this litigation.

Davila: Right, that litigation has put Safe Embrace’s emergency shelter in limbo. Can you walk me through the lawsuit?

Starbuck: Safe Embrace has been operating the emergency shelter at its current location in Sparks for more than 20 years. In 2017, the nonprofit applied for an expansion permit to raise the number of beds from 18 to 32. Construction began a year later and has since been completed.

Then, in 2019, a bunch of neighbors joined the lawsuit arguing that the City of Sparks did not properly issue the permit for the expansion. It says Sparks misclassified the shelter, and then, as a result, several steps were missed in the permitting process. There was supposed to be public notice, a town hall meeting and an assessment of the potential effects on nearby properties. Ultimately, they’re saying the shelter’s business license isn’t valid because of these process issues. I did reach out to the City of Sparks and Washoe County, but they declined to comment on pending litigation.

Davila: Who are the plaintiffs and what have they been saying? 

Starbuck: There are about 20 homeowners and residents who live near the shelter named on the lawsuit. I reached out to their lawyers multiple times, but I did not get a response. In the lawsuit, a neighbor said they weren’t notified about the expansion taking place and that construction vehicles created potholes on the street. During a neighborhood meeting that took place last month, residents also voiced concerns about the shelter affecting the ambience of the quiet neighborhood.

The corner of a storage room with white shelves holding jars of baby food and packages of tampons and pads.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Baby food and menstrual care products at the Domestic Violence Resource Center at 1735 Vassar St. in Reno, Nev.

Davila: There are only two shelters for victims of domestic violence in Washoe County. With this one possibly closing, what are you hearing from the other one?

Starbuck: Over in Reno, the Domestic Violence Resource Center also provides services for victims of domestic violence. I spoke to executive director Kristen Kennedy. She’s worried about the increased pressure the closure could put on their resources, along with others in the community. She explained that emergency shelter is crucial.

(SOUNDBITE FROM KRISTEN KENNEDY): If there isn’t that option for victims of domestic violence, then they’re going to feel like they have nowhere to go. They’re going to feel like they can’t flee their abuser.

Starbuck: Kennedy said this is especially concerning because the center has seen an increase in calls to their hotline and the number of motel nights needed in recent months.

Davila: And let’s talk about that increase. What is the Domestic Violence Resource Center seeing?

Starbuck: Kennedy said it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly, but she told me economic hardships from pandemic aid ending, along with inflation and the cost of living increase, those kinds of things can exacerbate the risk of domestic violence. She wants the public to know that there is capacity at the Domestic Violence Resource Center’s emergency shelter and that victims of domestic violence do have a place to go.

Davila: And circling back to Safe Embrace, what’s going to happen there? 

Starbuck: So in June, a Washoe County District Court judge ordered the shelter’s business license to be revoked by the July 1, and that was extended to August 15. The executive director of Safe Embrace told me they’re submitting an application for a Special Use Permit to Washoe County next week, but the permit review process will likely take several months. In the meantime, the organization is asking the judge to reconsider his decision and allow the shelter to continue to operate at a reduced capacity while the application is being reviewed. Otherwise, the shelter will have to close on August 15. Looking at last year, Safe Embrace provided 4,500 bed nights to victims.

Crisis hotline resources in Washoe County:

Domestic Violence Resource Center

  • Hotline: (775) 329-4150 (24 hours a day, seven days a week)
  • Text line: Text DVHELP or DVSAFE to 839863 (Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Safe Embrace

  • Hotline (775) 322-3466 (24 hours a day, seven days a week)
Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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