RENO — Armed security guards soon will staff the homeless shelter in downtown Reno following a recent uptick in violence at the facility that also serves Sparks and Washoe County.
One guard will police the shelter seven days a week from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., with a second guard added from 3 to 11 p.m., Reno city spokesman Jon Humbert told KRNV-TV.
Outreach officials for the shelter’s operator, Volunteers of America, will monitor the effort the first week of the 30-day pilot program, Humbert said.
The Reno Gazette Journal reported earlier this month that the shelter operator’s regional director, Pat Cashell, believes the overcrowded facility isn’t safe.
Incidents so far this year include a stabbing and a violent assault on an elderly resident of the shelter. Last month, a man was found dead on the shelter’s roof.
The Volunteers of America identified problematic times of day when incidents were more common and added security guards during those times, Humbert said.
Reno, Sparks and Washoe County fund the $3.5 million contract to Volunteers for America to run the shelter. The city of Reno oversees that contract. The additional security is not new spending because it comes from the existing contract, Humbert said.
Volunteers of America added a staff member who works between 4 p.m. and midnight to scan people entering after a man was stabbed in the men’s shelter in January by a person who was not a resident and was not scanned in. But a similar incident occurred in February when an elderly man was assaulted by a person who was not a resident and was not scanned in.
The most recent incident was when 61-year-old Craig Ruston was found dead on the roof of the shelter on March 8. Ruston, who wasn’t a resident of the shelter, was last seen on camera on March 5 entering the shelter — so it’s possible he was on the roof for a few days.
Cashell, son of former Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, told the Community Homelessness Advisory Board on April 1 the last person who accessed the roof before Ruston failed to turn the door alarm back on.
City staff placed a padlock on the door following Ruston’s death to prevent further access to the roof, but the facility is inherently dangerous because it operates above its capacity of 536, he said. That number almost doubles in the evening when people come for meal service or to use the shelter’s drop-in room, overflow shelter or winter tent, he said.
“For the record, it is not safe,” Cashell said. “I don’t want anyone to think it’s safe. It’s dangerous. We need to do something drastic, not today but yesterday.”