It’s been 10 years since I acquired Louis’ Basque Corner, located on the corner of Evans and Fourth streets. As many Renoites know, the area had undergone a decline from its glory days of the 1950s and 1960s. Further adding to the decline was the recent recession that hit Reno harder than most.
The name “Fourth Street” had become synonymous with negative stereotypes that would deter most people from visiting the area. One of the primary concerns given by most individuals was the homeless population. Unfortunately, this stereotype was supported by reality. The neighborhood was home to the only homeless shelter to serve men, women and children for the entire Reno-Sparks area. The already stressed facility couldn’t handle the increasing homeless population created by the recession, forcing many people to live without shelter. Encampments were erected along the river, empty alleyways and vacant lots, which reinforced the seemingly unsafe image of the area. It was arguably the most difficult timeline for Fourth Street. Eventually, economic recovery led to development in the area with more local businesses opening, including my second restaurant, The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery. The immediate surroundings began to visually improve. Enough momentum was created to justify branding our neighborhood as The Brewery District. From the outside looking in, one could think that our homeless population was on the decline. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We still only had one shelter and the homeless population continue to steadily increase. Stakeholders in the downtown area knew how prevalent homelessness still was. Discussions on how to help our at-risk population began to happen more frequently. In 2018, Reno took one of its major first steps in addressing the situation by creating a Business Improvement District (BID) that would, among many things, take a proactive approach in helping the homeless find services, housing and other basic human needs. This was more specifically addressed with the Ambassador program, which hires employees, some of whom have faced the very issues they are providing outreach for. The program has made a noticeable improvement in the lives of our at-risk population. I am lucky enough to serve on the board of our BID, now called the Downtown Reno Partnership, which gives me an inside look at the actual day-to-day success stories the ambassadors are achieving. Programs like the Ambassadors, Community Homelessness Advisory Board, Northern Nevada Hopes, Crossroads, Reno Housing Authority, Step 1, STEP2, The Eddy House, The Village on Sage Street, etc., have all had positive impacts on homelessness. The cities of Reno and Sparks along with Washoe County collaborated to convert a portion of the State owned NNAHMS campus on Galletti Way into a facility to house women and children. Things were starting to finally improve — and then 2020 and Covid-19 hit the world. Covid-19, and its effects on all citizenry, felt like the proverbial one step forward and two steps back for homelessness. Early summer of 2020 saw our city on the brink of losing the momentum we had gained helping our at-risk population. Our homeless population numbers were spiking, and CDC and state policy guidelines prevented agencies from applying techniques and protocols that had been working. It was looking dire until the silver linings of the pandemic started to manifest. The federal funding dollars that were pledged to local and state governments started to come in with the intent of being used to help fight the spread of Covid-19 and gain back the ground we had made on public health and safety. This funding enabled Reno to take the largest step forward to date. Reno was able to apply a portion of the funds to securing the land for what will become the center for homeless shelter and services. The site, which is located at 1775 E. 4th St., also includes the site of the former Governor’s Bowl facilities and is now known as The Nevada Cares Campus. Fast forward to today and the campus now has a 46,000-square-foot facility that can house up to 900 people. One of the major policy changes that the Cares Campus has incorporated is the allowance of couples, pets and general use population to stay together. This removes one of the main barriers that the homeless had previously faced when seeking shelter. Another feature that will increase participation is the preparation and allowance of campsites on the Governor’s Bowl portion of the campus. I can’t overstate how giant a leap this campus will provide in helping our at-risk population get access to services and help. All of our citizens deserve a safe and clean environment to enjoy everything this city has to offer. I am excited to see where the momentum takes us over the next decade on Fourth Street and beyond. “What’s Up Downtown” is a monthly Voices column in the NNBW typically authored by Alex Stettinski, executive director of the Downtown Reno Partnership. This month’s column was written by DRP board member Chris Shanks, a local Realtor and owner of downtown businesses The Depot Craft Brewery & Distillery and Louis’ Basque Corner.