Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a homeless housing project was set to open in Sparks in April. The progress of the 265-bed campus has been slowed but is still moving along.
Early this year, before the pandemic, Washoe County Commissioners approved nearly $15 million to fund Our Place. Kate Tomas, the assistant Washoe County manager, said the site will continue to be built unless construction work is deemed nonessential. She said currently there are restrictions on the campus in order to protect those working on the construction.
“The Our Place campus is coming along, but that's looking to be later in spring and early summer before we transition everyone over there. But again, if things have not changed and we haven't been able to flatten the curve, how many people we put on that campus is going to be severely impacted by the social distancing factor,” Tomas said.
Before the health crisis, Our Place’s goal was to work with individuals and families to find long-term solutions and root causes of their homelessness. The facility plans to eventually house the women, children and families from the downtown Record Street shelter in Reno, which would allow that facility to become an all men's shelter. But, right now, Record Street is being used to house those who may have COVID-19-related symptoms.
“That's the tough part about something like this, whereas we would like to spend the caseworkers' time working on a long-term strategy, really right now, we're trying to keep people safe and healthy. Because without your health, we can't focus on the long-term efforts toward housing sustainability, financial literacy, housing security and things like that,” Tomas said. "Right now, it's an all-hands effort to keep this community safe."
Tomas said the long-term goals of offering wrap-around services are still intact but when the campus opens, they’ll assist the community as needed to protect people from the virus. On top of recovering from COVID-19 or avoiding it, many are dealing with new health challenges.
“Some of those folks are experiencing sobriety because they're focused on their health, so where they wouldn't normally come to a facility to become healthy ... they are now being forced by having [COVID-19] to go through detox. So that's a challenge and we want to be respectful that they are dealing with a multitude of issues and we want to be there to help them through that period,” Tomas said.
Right now, some people are finding nightly housing at the Reno Events Center and wrap-around services at an additional undisclosed location with 43 beds. Along with the cities of Reno and Sparks, Washoe County is also preparing up to 60 trailers for additional housing for those who are unable to safely isolate. That may be because they don’t have a home, they’re immunocompromised or they pose a high risk to others in their home.