The number of unsheltered people in Washoe County jumped 180% between 2017 and 2019. This staggering increase placed even more demands on the Downtown Shelter in Washoe County, NV, which was already overcrowded to the point of having to set up tents in their courtyard areas to mitigate overflow.
Something had to change. Seeing this, the Washoe County Human Services Agency (HSA) knew they needed to address the following questions quickly:
To address the first question, Washoe County partnered with Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services to come up with a solution to convert existing, state-owned buildings into residences for a portion of the local homeless population. The buildings were historically part of a state mental institution that emerged in the late 1800’s but were mostly empty and unused. This is a great example of the power of partnerships; through partnerships,Washoe County turned a completely underutilized facility into an investment in the Reno/Sparks community. The mostly abandoned property was cost effective, ultimately saving the county millions, because remodeling was much cheaper than building new property elsewhere.
Additionally, it features one square mile of fenced area with plenty of green spaces and 24 hour security, allowing for comfortable living inside and outside. Finishes and furniture throughout the property (like cozy seating, cheerful colors, house plants, etc.) add a personalized, inviting atmosphere for residents. It’s these aspects and more that make this campus feel less like a shelter and more like a home.
“In its original design, the campus served hundreds of patients with mental illness throughout the years. Many of them were also laid to rest adjacent to the living quarters. William Place was the first patient that passed on that campus. OUR Place was chosen to give honor to all of those who are challenged with mental illness, substance abuse or lack of support systems. Let him serve as motivation to all of us that need a safe place, support and assistance in building a better tomorrow while ensuring someone’s dignity. We are proud of Our Place and we are so grateful for this project and all that it will do for our citizens.”– Amber Howell, Director of Washoe County Human Services Agency
Having laid the groundwork for being able to serve a larger homeless population, Washoe County’s next major focus was on serving more effectively. Yes, we’re creating a new, safe space, but how do we build in more collaborative case management that holistically supports residents during and after homelessness?
Case management at shelters typically follows the norm of helping homeless individuals while they are residents, but assistance tends to stop after the individuals are on their feet again. Unfortunately, for many of those that graduate from a shelter, it only takes one thing – lost job, car accident, medical bills – to send them back into the cycle of homelessness. This eventually leads to more time in a shelter. Washoe County knew that investing in a resident after they leave the shelter was important to keeping them successful and preventing them from needing to return to the shelter, so they focused on the following upgrades:
Another big piece is the new case management system. Our Place overhauled their current case management and replaced it with Good Grid.
Our Place is a promising attempt at something new for Washoe County. Each step has been an effort to re-imagine how addressing homelessness should really look in both a physical and a process space. We are hopeful that communities across the nation will follow suit in building effective, collaborative systems to improve the health and happiness of their populations. If your community might be interested in improving their current processes, we’d love to help.
For more information on Our Place, click here: https://www.washoecounty.us/hsa/adult_services/our_place/index.php
For more information on RISE, you can check out their website here: http://www.renoinitiative.org/
To find out ways that Good Grid can help your community, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 501-687-2346.