Last week, the Reno City Council decided against purchasing a $350,000 piece of land along Clear Acre Lane. The city had planned to use the land in order to start a “housing first” program. Specifically, the city planned to build 30 housing units meant to house the chronically homeless, or those who’ve been continuously homeless for a year or more or had four or more bouts of homelessness in the past three years.
Pioneered in Utah and adopted quickly across the U.S., housing first focuses on putting homeless people in stable housing as a catalyst to solving other problems within the community, such as mental illness or substance abuse.
More importantly, however, housing first has shown itself to be successful. Utah specifically dropped its number of chronically homeless by 91 percent by 2015. And while the state’s overall homeless population remains fairly large — around 14,000 by that same measure in 2015 — the number of chronically homeless dropped from about 2,000 to just over 200.
While the City of Reno isn’t necessarily sitting on its hands when it comes to the homeless, there’s certainly room to improve. Indeed there are at least 200 homeless around either the river or the highways that Reno Police cannot tell to move because there are no beds to handle them.
That Reno would turn to Housing First is a commendable step, but only if the city actually goes through with it. Councilmembers say that land along Keystone Avenue or 8th Street will do just fine, but city planners say that those parcels don’t meet the same criteria that the Clear Acre plot does.
And we’d like to believe that the city and state at large is making strides to solve the problem, but Nevada’s track record makes that more difficult than not. Between the unceremonious one-way trips to California the state gave to some of its mentally ill to some of the new, less-than-accommodating benches among city bus stations, the state has a history of shoving the problem under the rug in lieu of actually addressing the fundamentals of the issue.
Ultimately, we understand that the investment required for this project isn’t trivial, but neither is Reno’s homeless problem. If the city is truly committed to housing first, then it must follow through on its plans, be they on Clear Acre or Keystone.