Washoe County Builds New Shelter For Homeless Women, Children


Courtesy Washoe County Human Services Agency

Washoe County is converting a closed state mental health facility into a campus offering services and shelter to homeless women and children.

This fall a shuttered state mental health facility in Sparks is expected to reopen as a shelter for homeless women and children.

The Washoe County Human Services Agency is developing the campus, which will include intensive counseling for up to 150 residents and access to programs aimed at getting families off the streets.

Along with offering better security for women and children, the new campus is also expected to take pressure off service providers in the downtown Reno homeless corridor, where more than 2,500 people typically find shelter nightly.

The 12-building Sparks campus will also provide adult daycare for Alzheimer’s patients, substance abuse rehabilitation, postpartum care, and a communal kitchen.

“This is a campus that serves a multitude of populations, vulnerable populations that need very specific programming," Amber Howell, director of Washoe County Human Services Agency, told KNPR's State of Nevada, "It really helped Washoe County and the region to expand areas of Crossroads, senior population, Alzheimer’s and dementia, homeless women, families and young mothers who have just given birth.”

Howell said she is awaiting a final cost estimate on the rehabilitation work. The new campus will have a $700,000 operational budget, with the state leasing the site to the county for free for 10 years.

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The other portion of the cost of the new buildings will be for staffing. Howell said they're going to hire 15 new people with an emphasis on case managers.

“What we’ve learned is that you need to have a really robust intake screening process to determine where people are at and what they need," she said, "They need a caseworker to help guide them through that.”

Howell said the Reno area is struggling with a homeless crisis right now, which is linked to a number of factors.

“You almost have this perfect storm of a lot of challenges people are facing whether they were working and out of the system and can no longer afford housing, or they’ve found themselves in a violent or addictive cycle that they can’t get out of and there is no soft handoff to them to get them to the next step,” she said.

The new housing project hopes to be that soft handoff for people who are already homeless and people who are on the verge.

“They’re going to be healthier. They’ll be more productive. Then we can work on a more permanent housing option for them. It is really a start to finish for them at the campus,” she said.

Kristopher Dahir is a councilman on the Sparks City Council and he's been a homeless advocate for years.

He said the new project will give the area more beds for homeless people, which is a good thing, but really addressing the problem in a meaningful way will take a community effort.

“A lot of times it comes down to having people come alongside, and relationships and making sure that they have mentors that’s the part of it that takes a little bit more of our community,” Dahir said.

He also believes it is vital for cities, counties, nonprofits, churches and other interested parties to work together to address the needs of the homeless. 

Dahir points out that if only one city is doing something and it is not working with the county there could be a duplication of services or no services at all.

“I would say the best thing we can do is make sure we’re all working together and it’s not about the dividing lines of where a city starts or begins. We’re here for the bigger picture of helping the community,” he said.


Kristopher Dahir, Sparks councilman and homeless advocate; Amber Howell, director, Washoe County Human Services Agency

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