Washoe County Communications Division premieres documentary on the state of homelessness in Washoe County, launches discussions for future of services for the vulnerable

by | Apr 11, 2024

As Washoe County nears the three-year mark of having assumed lead responsibility for homeless programs in the region, the Washoe County Communications Division has released a documentary of first-person accounts titled “Home: Rebuilding Hope for Washoe’s Homeless.” In conjunction with the premiere, Washoe County Human Services Agency launched a new webpage to easily navigate to the services and programs discussed in the documentary.  

The documentary premiered April 10 at The Theater to an audience of participants, service providers, elected officials, government staff, and business owners and residents who have a stake in helping the homeless community. The premiere was followed by a robust forward-looking discussion of available services and those that are lacking in Washoe County.  

“It’s not often we have the time or opportunity to get law enforcement across our three jurisdictions, elected officials, business leaders, medical experts, those who have experienced homelessness, and concerned citizens in one room to talk frankly about the issues, and that’s what happened with this screening,” County Manager Eric Brown said. “We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we started an invaluable conversation last night, and I am proud of our community for caring and collaborating in this effort.” 

SoSu.TV conducted scores of interviews over six months with those who have experienced homelessness as well as service providers in the community. The documentary features original animation from SoSu.TV staff, as well as an original musical score. It is named “Home: Rebuilding Hope for Washoe’s Homeless,” as a play on the “Home means Nevada,” but more importantly because the individuals featured in the film demonstrate what community truly means. Through their experiences, we find a path to recovery and rehabilitation aided by groundbreaking programs, shelters and services. 

“Our long-term partnership with Washoe County afforded the opportunity to illustrate the efforts being made on every level of this issue. The core of the story follows the amazing individuals who survive – and those who fight – homelessness,” SoSu.TV Founder Mark Hatjakes said. “We are extremely proud of our small but mighty team who spent tireless hours bringing this story to life. As a local business, we were proud to match Washoe County’s investment in production costs in order to make this film what we felt it needed to be.”  

In 2023, 592 people experiencing homelessness found permanent housing upon exit from the Cares Campus, Safe Camp, HOPE Team Case Management, or Our Place.  

Understanding that a roof does not solve all problems, Washoe County has been integrating the expanded services in other programs such as CrossRoads, the Department of Alternative Sentencing, Community Court, and Senior Services. As evidenced by the first-person accounts in the documentary, homelessness is intricately tied to trauma, mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse disorders. 

In August 2023, Washoe County purchased the shuttered West Hills in-patient behavioral health hospital in Reno. Early in 2024, the Community Reinvestment Program created a position to manage the opioid settlement funds and ensure they’re directed to programs that directly address opioid use.  

In April 2024, Washoe County hired its first-ever Behavioral Health Administrator to manage the various programs and services both internal to Washoe County and external to nonprofits, other government entities, and service providers. 

“I am honored to be in a position to facilitate our region’s efforts to meet the behavioral health needs of our community. Many in our community are working together to address a significant increase in substance use and mental health challenges,” Behavioral Health Administrator Julia Ratti said. “We are keenly aware of the lack of services available to address the growing need. I appreciate Washoe County’s focus on our unhoused population where we know that trauma, mental health distress, substance use disorder, and lack of appropriate supportive housing are often at the root of the challenges. Let’s work together to achieve net-zero homelessness.” 

Timeline of Washoe County’s homeless services 

March 2020 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the Community Assistance Center (CAC) shelter on Record Street was forced to close, as it was not large enough accommodate social distancing. The CAC had a total of 318 beds for men, women, and families, and capacity for 150 overflow beds.  

The City of Reno, City of Sparks, and Washoe County joined forces to open a temporary shelter at the Reno Events Center to accommodate 320 socially distanced beds.  

June 2020 

Washoe County opened OUR Place on the former Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services campus in Reno. OUR Place converted the campus into cottages and emergency shelter specifically for women, children, and families. Operated by the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equlity (RISE), OUR Place has room for 138 women, 38 families, 20 seniors, and their animal companions.  

August 2020 

The Reno Events Center was needed for its intended purpose – to host events – so the temporary shelter was closed, and the people needing shelter were returned to the CAC and an adjacent temporary campground. However, social distancing requirements meant a decrease in the number of beds allowed to be used in the CAC, from the former 318 to 135, and overflow capacity from 150 down to 40.  

The cities and county embarked on a plan to find a location large enough to house the increasing number of those experiencing homelessness while also accommodating social distancing requirements. Washoe County acquired a large parcel of land between Fourth Street and US-80/580, and the City of Reno began plans to construct an emergency shelter.  

January 2021 

City of Reno contracted with Q&D Construction and broke ground on a new emergency shelter that would eventually be the Nevada Cares Campus.  

May 2021 

The Nevada Cares Campus emergency shelter opened to 604 clients. The campus was intended to serve the short-term acute need for shelter, while long-term plans were being drafted for more permanent facilities.  

June 2021 

Washoe County opened the Safe Camp pilot program with 50 tents for those who are resistant to congregate housing and are referred from Washoe County partner agencies.  

Fall 2021 

Washoe County assumed ownership and responsibility of the Cares Campus, while the cities of Reno and Sparks committed to developing affordable housing. Washoe County also moved forward on permanent structures at the campus such as a laundry facility, permanent bathrooms, animal area, permanent Safe Camp, and wrap-around services on-site.  

January 2022 

While Washoe County worked on the physical expansion of the Cares Campus, it also addressed the staffing levels, adding 43 new positions to include case managers, mental health counselors, and other support positions.  

December 2023 

The Resource Center opened at the Cares Campus, a publicly accessible structure for those seeking assistance either before they face potential homelessness or to assist those currently experiencing it. The Resource Center also provides overflow beds, a laundry facility, hot beverages and an indoor area to rest and seek services.  

February 2024 

Since Washoe County began focusing on homelessness in 2020, it has adopted the national Built for Zero approach, which provides a framework for gathering and understanding data and strategically implement programs to work toward zero homelessness. Early in 2020, the region achieved a significant benchmark of nearly every entity that serves the homeless using the HMIS platform, and 90 percent of the homeless population is now entered into HMIS. Before hitting this benchmark, the need was undefined, as no one really knew exactly how many people needed service and what type of service they needed.  


Washoe County’s Housing & Homeless Services is now a division of the Human Services Agency, which already oversees senior services, children’s services, and other adult services. The Cares Campus has been redesigned to provide a variety of bunk-style beds and individual cubby space, depending on the needs and responsibilities of the clients. In total, there are 549 beds in the shelter, 84 overflow beds, and 50 Safe Camp units. Our Place has 38 family rooms, 102 women’s beds, and 20 beds for seniors. There are now 35 service provider partners on site at the Cares Campus, including medical and dental providers, behavioral health providers, job training, and more.  

A 50-unit supportive housing unit is currently being built on the campus, and the Board of County Commissioners recently approved an expansion of the construction contract to allow for 120 affordable housing units. Northern Nevada HOPES will open its Jerry Smith Community Wellness Center on the campus in May this year, a state-of-the-art clinic that will significantly expand access to primary care, mental health, case management and substance use treatment to thousands of northern Nevadans. 

For information on Washoe County Housing and Homeless Services, visit www.washoecounty.gov/homeless/, and to watch “Home: Restoring Hope to Washoe’s Homeless,” and for easy links to the county’s homeless resources, visit www.washoecounty.gov/hsa/Thank%20you/index.php.