Reno to Shelter Homeless Inside Downtown Events Center During COVID-19 Outbreak

Reno's Downtown Events Center In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the city of Reno is opening the doors to its Downtown Events Center as a makeshift shelter for the community’s homeless.

The space will provide enough room to shelter residents under the CDC’s current social distancing guidelines that recommend 6-feet of distance between people at all times as a means of fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

While the center will serve as a temporary shelter, it is mostly being used to relocate all of the homeless residents from Record Street and house Washington Street’s overflow shelter. Adding more capacity won’t be the main focus.

Volunteers of America (VOA), who operate the region’s homeless shelter, will have access to an additional 50 beds through the use of the Downtown Events Center. That’s significantly more than their current shelter’s capacities.

Downtown Events Center Allows for Social Distancing

Shelter director, Pat Cashell, said their first priority was getting social distancing right, right away. The large, open concert venue allows the square footage for that to happen, with 118,000-square-feet to spare.

“If you were at Record Street last night you’d see people were sleeping shoulder to shoulder,” Cashell said. “There is absolutely no social distancing going on and it’s not safe for anybody.”

Councilman Devon Reese said that while it might not be a permanent solution, it’s the best the city is able to do right now with the “timing and facilities” they have.

Center is Currently Vacant Due to Governor Orders

The concert venue became an available space to use as the temporary shelter due to the fact that it’s vacant and was ordered to close after Gov. Sisolak’s statewide closure of all non-essential businesses for 30 days.

Councilwoman Neoma Jardon said that the events center has enough space for 400 people to sleep.

The space will also be able to accommodate and quarantine homeless individuals that potentially contract the virus.

No Coronavirus Cases for Shelter Residents, Yet

Currently, no shelter residents have tested positive for COVID-19. However, limited testing may be a reason for no reports of positive testing yet.

In Washoe County, there have been 25 positive cases of coronavirus. That’s a smaller number compared with the now 200+ positive cases of the virus coming out of Clark County.

Volunteers of America have been doing their due diligence to check on shelter residents’ health by monitoring their temperature with thermometers that have been provided by Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center.

The shelters’ have also begun limiting the number of available showers and restrooms, to allow more time to disinfect the facility in between uses.

While the events center doesn’t have showers available at this time, they will put hand-washing stations into place.

A Much-Needed Refuge

With major public buildings closed, like casinos, schools, and libraries, it’s been difficult for the homeless to find public restrooms they can use. The events center will be a much-needed refuge for the community during this time.

Holly Welborn, policy director for the Nevada ACLU, praises the city’s decision to utilize the events center and says they’re eager to learn the proper protocols to put in place to keep the homeless as safe and secure as possible.

“Our most vulnerable residents deserve an equal opportunity to protect themselves against COVID-19,” she said. “We look forward to learning more about protocols to meet CDC requirements and to provide food and access to healthcare.”