RENO, Nev. (AP) — The number of homeless people living on Reno-area streets has almost doubled over the past year as home prices continue to soar to record levels and the lack of affordable housing intensifies.
County data shows the number of “unsheltered/unknown” homeless individuals jumped from 342 in January 2021 to 656 last month, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
Catrina Peters, a Washoe County data and policy specialist, said part of the increase is due to stepped up outreach that is capturing more numbers of homeless in the county database.
“During the height of COVID at the end of 2020, we weren’t doing a lot of outreach,” Peters said. “Now agencies are doing more.”
She said government departments, nonprofits and field teams are going out and connecting with people more and inputting information from encounters with those who are homeless.
But the shortage of affordable housing remains a driving force. The area’s median home price recently reached $600,000, shattering previous records and putting affordable housing out of even more residents’ reach.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve announced this week the city council will hold a special meeting on Feb. 22 “to discuss the critical need for affordable housing in our region.”
“More people can see themselves on the brink of homelessness because of the affordability,” said Devin McFarland, community administrator at The Village on Sage Street, a dorm-style facility with 216 small single-occupancy units designed for people making minimum wage or with other low incomes.
“The waiting list for subsidized properties (with lower rents) are three months, six months, two years. They’re really hard to get into so if you’re on the fixed income or low income, it’s against you to be able to sustain yourself. Especially seniors get priced out.”
Grant Denton of the homeless services nonprofit Karma Box said the demolition of weekly motels around downtown Reno has contributed to people being on the streets,
He emphasized that he wasn’t criticizing the destruction of those buildings because they were well past their natural lifespan and many were unfit for human habitation. “It’s something that had to happen, but the timing may have been off a little,” he said.
Peters from the county said the lack of affordable housing is a huge issue in the community.
“We’ve pretty much gotten rid of the housing of last resort — the weekly motels,” she said. “It’s incredibly naïve to think that’s not had an impact on our increasing homeless population.”
Another contributing factor to more homeless people being on the streets rather than in shelters is safety. An Reno Gazette-Journal public records request of police, fire and EMS calls to the Cares Campus emergency shelter revealed weeks averaging more than a dozen calls a day to its Fourth Street address.
Some people feel more comfortable living on the streets.
Official say having accurate counts of people experiencing homelessness is important so officials can better assess whether efforts are working to decrease the numbers.
Also, federal funding to support homeless services is tied to collecting such data. About $2.2 million a year annually comes into Washoe County from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
In order to get a piece of this money, HUD requires that all participating organizations – government agency or nonprofit – track their homeless encounters in a database called the Homeless Management Information System.
All organizations serving homeless populations in the state of Nevada use this same system.
If someone gets a bed at the emergency shelter and later encounters outreach staff after setting up a tent in a park, this change will be noted in the database, Peters said.
People are tracked by birthdate, with fields for multiple nicknames. Photos are also input to decrease the chance an individual will disappear from the system because of an alias or false information being given.
“What the data shows,” Peters said, “is that we’ve made a lot of headway.”