Advocates, members want Washoe County homelessness board to meet more often
Washoe County's Community Homelessness Advisory Board (CHAB) on Monday unanimously approved amendments to its bylaws allowing it to meet as desired rather than quarterly — a change that CHAB member and Sparks City Councilman Kristopher Dahir said he hopes will allow the board to meet more often.
“I hope that we don't just meet when we feel like we have an update from the Cares Campus because I know you guys have so much going on,” he said, referring to the county's primary homeless services complex.
Monday’s meeting marks the second time the CHAB has met this year. The first meeting was in March and the second scheduled meeting in June was canceled “due to a lack of any business before the board.”
During Monday’s meeting, county commissioner and CHAB Chair Alexis Hill said there’s an advantage to more information being regularly broadcast to the public.
“Talking to the members of the community lately, I feel like they do not know what we’re doing,” Hill said. “I think there are misperceptions and still some thoughts of how the campus was when it first started during the COVID [pandemic].”
When the Cares Campus opened in 2021, the shelter was faced with a large number of people needing beds immediately. During this time, it developed a reputation of being dangerous and needing improvements as several emergency calls were placed from the shelter and black mold was growing in the showers.
At Monday’s meeting, Dana Searcy, the housing and homelessness services manager with Washoe County, told board members that staffing levels at the Cares Campus are increasing, emergency calls are decreasing after a metal detector and bag check station were put in place and improvements are developing as further construction continues at the shelter.
Advocates voiced concerns about the coming winter months that will bring cold weather and called for a winter preparedness plan to be established by the board by Oct. 1. As part of this plan, local advocate Natalie Handler asked for the City of Reno to gift or lease the community assistance center on Record Street to Washoe County, allowing it to open as an overflow low barrier shelter for women, families and children.
It is currently sitting vacant and called “not habitable at this point” by Monica Cochran, the manager for Reno’s housing and neighborhood development department.
Handler also asked for warming centers to be opened 24/7 ahead of their planned Nov. 1 start time. Searcy responded by noting though the target is to open on Nov. 1, plans would be modified if an emergency situation, such as an early winter storm, arises.
Advocate Meagan O’Farrell echoed Handler’s desire for a winter preparedness plan to be in place by Oct. 1; however, CHAB has not scheduled its next meeting.
"We oftentimes are having to make these decisions very last minute and in crisis mode when you're not able to make good decisions," O’Farrell said.