On March 21, the Reno Sparks Gospel Mission shelter closed and two Volunteers of America (VOA) shelters were relocated. Men and women are now in the 118,000 square foot Downtown Reno Events Center to better maintain safe social distancing protocols, but the VOA still provides emergency housing for some 600 additional clients to include, seniors and the working poor.
The family shelter on Record Street is still open. The men’s shelter on 4th Street has been re-purposed to serve men with underlying health conditions and veterans, but the VOA’s unexpected cost of doing business during the COVID-19 outbreak is driving a mounting budget deficit that may well surpass $1 million dollars.
“We are anticipating a $750,000 shortfall and it could grow depending on how long the health crisis lasts,” wrote VOA regional development officer Linda Grace in an email. “Our expenses have skyrocketed around payroll (people out due to age, health or dependent children at home, in addition to overtime), as we are providing over 1,000 people with shelter and housing in Reno. In addition, the demand for food supplies for shut-in seniors and families have grown beyond what we annually budget for on top of supplies that we don’t normally need such as gloves, masks, gowns etc.”
Typically, the VOA campus off 4th Street in Reno includes shelters for men, women, and families. According to the VOA, roughly 500 people spend the night, each night, housing on average 160 men, 50 women, 109 family members, and 150 in overflow quarters. During more clement weather, a large tent is used to harbor an additional 50 people a night.
ReStart is part of the VOA and is the largest permanent supportive housing provider in northern Nevada. Permanent supportive housing is provided as a component to the VOA’s Mental Health Support Center. The center serves individuals with a disabling mental illness and are classified as chronically homeless. With over 100 units throughout the community, the program supports both families and individuals.
The Rapid Rehousing portion of the ReStart program currently provides services for families who were previously residing in the Family Shelter at the 4th Street campus.
Various funding sources enable ReStart to subsidize 30 percent of a client’s rent in authorized units. Working with their case managers, clients receive a complete assessment and service plan that addresses their specific needs.
Each family or individual creates and maintains an individualized monthly budget before completing the program. Proven budget management skills help increase the likelihood of long-term success. ReStart rounds out the rehabilitation with job, interview, and resume training.
Qualified families can receive a rent subsidy for up to 12 months with the focus on teaching clients the necessary life-skills to become and maintain self-sufficiency. The number of available units fluctuates with the rental market.
The COVID-19 outbreak magnifies the complexity and financial costs of delivering services.
Last Friday, Congress passed the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act. In the sprawling $2 trillion novel coronavirus relief package, $15.5 billion is available for grants to help emergency shelter providers.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development is statutorily tasked with administering the grants. Northern Nevada’s dismal housing and homelessness resume should be a compelling asset when making the case for need.
Years before the COVID-19 outbreak, the region’s homeless population far exceeded local shelter capacity. Many still live outside or in weekly motel rooms sometimes shared by as many as a dozen people. Rent prices in the Truckee Meadows have increased sharply in recent years. Many who are homeless are working but cannot afford a place to live.
For emergency shelter providers, the grants for federal assistance will be graded on 3 broad factors.
(1) Risk of transmission of coronavirus in a jurisdiction.
(2) Whether a jurisdiction has a high number or rate of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families.
(3) Economic and housing market conditions in a jurisdiction.
Aspects of the omnibus novel coronavirus relief bill may also help buoy homeless and low income populations with direct support to individuals and service agencies, but the specifics of actual cash disbursements are still abstract.
According to VOA’s Linda Grace, her organization will be making prompt application for federal relief. She said that the VOA is also focused on raising money from individual donations because the timeline for actually getting an award is unknown.
Brian Bahouth has been a public media journalist since 1994 and has lived in Reno since 2000. He first came to northern Nevada to be news director at KUNR, Reno Public Radio and has subsequently filed scores of reports for National Public Radio, Nevada Public Radio, Capital Public Radio and and KVMR in Nevada City, California. He is co-founder of KNVC community radio in Carson City. Support his work.