By Kayla Anderson
On January 12, the Nevada Board of Examiners approved a lease agreement for the “Our Place Homeless Project” which is a collaboration between the Nevada Division of State Lands, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the State of Nevada, and Washoe County for a new campus being constructed in Sparks.
To support this agreement, the Nevada Division of State Lands is leasing 21 acres of the property to Washoe County to help provide: a mental health and substance abuse program; reduce jail admission/emergency room visits; help with employment and education opportunities; keep families together; and shelter for residents who don’t have anywhere else to go.
“The Nevada Division of State Lands, together with our partners at Washoe County and the Department of Health and Human Services, is proud to support efforts to expand critical social services and housing for those in need here in our ever-growing community,” says Nevada Division of State Lands Administrator Charlie Donohue.
The project came about a couple of years ago when Washoe County Human Services was looking for a way to alleviate the overpopulation at the Record Street facility in Reno and specifically help women and families get back on their feet. The property that the “Our Place Homeless Project” is hosted on (on Glendale Avenue) was on land that had been vacant for several years and finally put to good use.
“We worked out an agreement with the State buildings and Washoe County is investing in the rehabilitation of those buildings to make it functional and available again,” Donohue adds. He says that the Nevada Division of State Lands is excited to be a part of the Homeless Project and integrating a community garden shows clear use of lands therefore the Division could authorize that lease.
“The garden concept is to bring in irrigation, grow various crops, and have raised beds. People living there and working at the garden on something that will ultimately benefit them…it gives them the opportunity to learn or enhance their life skills,” says Donohue.
The Our Place campus opened in June 2020 for families and to women in August 2020. As of late January 2021, there are 102 women residing at the Sparks Our Place campus; a total of 266 women have been housed since its opening.
Washoe County instituted a fulltime diversion case manager to respond to those women and families in need of shelter when Our Place is full and that has been deemed very successful in navigating a multitude of housing options. To date, 31 women and families have been served through this program.
“Our hope is that, by authorizing the use of state lands for this important undertaking, our partners will be able to advance programs that further their mission to address the many challenges facing homeless and vulnerable populations in Northern Nevada for years to come.
“I’ve been dealing with it from a land perspective, but I believe that this concept will change people’s lives and we’re happy to secure the ground for them for the next 25 years,” says Donohue.
“We are thankful for this 25-year lease, as it allows our staff to pivot when required and respond quickly within our campus to meet the needs of our friends experiencing homelessness,” says Human Services Agency Director Amber Howell.
While the success rate of a project like this is hard to define since success looks different for everyone, about half of the Reno/Sparks homeless population hasn’t been in a shelter for 5-10 years or ever due to the stigma around being homeless so just getting them in the door can be a big success. Washoe County Human Services sees a wide range of people and is attempting to meet their needs and get past the barriers that have created them to be homeless. The Agency’s plan is to keep residents 3-6 months on campus to have the time to assign them a case worker who can aid them in overcoming their addictions, mental health issues, and more with wraparound services that can have long-lasting effects rather than just helping them get out of the harsh weather elements for a night.
“I think that’s what makes this campus unique- it’s an unprecedented way to deal with mental issues,” says Department of Social Services Community Outreach Coordinator Chris Ciarlo. “We’ve been working on this Project for two-and-a-half years and we love that the Nevada Division of State Lands is front and center of this,” he adds.
Donohue notes that in addition to the money that the County has been putting towards it, private companies and donors such as Q&D Construction have contributed.
“There is a large list of folks that have made investments to show that they’re committed to this great program,” Donohue says.
An overview of the ‘Our Place Homeless Project’ campus in Sparks shows the lease and occupancy area in the yellow border.