The Big Shelter Model: Not Enough Beds and Too Expensive
Mini tent cities, derided by many, provide a sense of community which doesn’t exist in hierarchy, rule driven shelters. We’ve made the case for them here before. There are other options. Rather than demolishing motels, shouldn’t we turn them into temporary shelter space? What are we doing with those empty lots anyway? Jacobs Entertainment likes to get good press, make splashy donations, but what about using some of the motels they buy into new room by room shelter space rather than creating new parking lots and putting up Burner art?
Don’t people in power understand there can never be enough beds? At the Community Assistance Center on Record street, according to the city’s website, there’s room for 158 men at night, 21 families, six women who are pregnant or with infant and fifty women. However you look at the very imprecise yearly point in time count numbers, that’s just not enough beds.
Shelters are also very expensive to set up. New York City is spending over $2 billion a year on shelters, but that’s not working either. Los Angeles with its warm weather and deep California pockets also can’t keep up, however hard it tries.
Locally, look at the Eddy House and its years long, very commendable but arduous, effort to get a 24/7 facility for youth living on the streets.
What’s the Accountability and Success of Shelters Anyway?
Another obvious question: why aren’t people without shelter more often at the table for helping shape future decisions over programs which impact them?
How do we test if shelters are good at doing their job, with their affiliated case managers and wraparound services? What’s the success rate of people staying at the CAC and then getting into permanent housing? Are these numbers kept by anyone, and if so, what are they?
Reno is also notorious for having great ideas and new projects, but very slow follow through. We’ve asked this before and we will ask again. What’s the update to the 2018 plan to move women, families and youth out of the downtown shelter onto part of the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services campus in Sparks for more supportive services?
Should We Imitate Some of Sacramento’s New Approaches or Try Our Own?
Not far away from us, Sacramento is opening two new 100 bed shelters, to be located in more residential areas. Is this something Reno should try as well? We couldn’t even get granny pods approved because of a prevailing NIMBY attitude, so odds might be long.
Dozens of people living without shelter are also being sheltered in a historic hotel in Sacramento, where they have their own rooms.
What about Jacobs Entertainment not razing so many motels, and offering that option as part of a city or county run program? With all their connections, it seems it would be a breeze for them to set that up. Save a motel you bought, rather than razing it down, and use the rooms as a shelter option.
What about making tent cities legal and safe? The City of Reno is setting up a new spot for volunteer meals. Why not set up a new spot for camping with showers and bathrooms and some security? People we’ve interviewed said they would pay five dollars a night for that. However you would run it, it would probably be much cheaper than the downtown shelter.
Why People Avoid Shelters
During our reporting with Our Town Reno, we have heard many reasons why people might avoid the downtown shelter. The top reason given by most is that their pets aren’t allowed. Their pets are their most trusted friend, so going to the shelter means not having a pet and a friend anymore.
Couples aren’t allowed. The amount of possessions one can bring is very limited, so if you don’t have storage, you have to hide your stuff, and there’s no guarantees it will be there in the morning.
Inside the shelter, people often complain they can get some of the possessions they bring in stolen, like a good pair of shoes. They may have a fear of crowds, social anxieties, claustrophobia which will make them want to avoid a big shelter as well.
Once inside, it can feel like prison. For people who have lost so much in their lives, they might want some control over their daily and nightly rituals, which a shelter will not allow, given all the rules including very early wake ups. Shelters also often look and feel drab and austere. Where are all the colors and comforts?
Teens and young adults on the streets, especially LGBTQ, feel discriminated against. They also feel unsafe at shelters.
Many avoid shelters because of fights, the cursing, the cliques, the loud noises, the sometimes angry staff, and also the consistent fear of contracting bed bugs, lice, or scabies. There’s also people coughing, and risks of catching tuberculosis, the flu or other diseases from others nearby.
Some were victims of rape or assault at a shelter once and never want to experience a shelter ever again, no matter how difficult the conditions outside. They also want to avoid people who may not be sober. Victims of domestic abuse are afraid their abuser might be at the shelter.
So when those living on the streets are pointed toward the shelter, is that really always a good idea? Shouldn’t we look at other options for those who have run out of options? Shouldn’t we try harder to help the most vulnerable in our community? Shouldn’t we stop criminalizing poverty and try to help rather than sweep and cite those living outside?