Officials Grapple with Homeless Services Funding

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Elected officials from Reno, Sparks and Washoe County are grappling with a $1 million shortfall in funding for homeless services, including the opening of a new family shelter and services building in October.

During a meeting Monday, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell asked for a report within 90 days on how to fund the Community Assistance Center.

The shortfall has been reduced from $1.6 million in the last few weeks by delaying the opening of the $12 million building until October. City and county officials also expect a new shelter operator to agree to work with volunteers, providing hours equal to 10 paid workers.

The Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission, which operated the men's shelter since it opened in 2005, withdrew its proposal for a new contract a few months ago.

The new contract would cover the men and women's shelter in one
building and the family shelter and part of the resource center devoted to mail and telephones in the new building. Reno has raised $26.5 million to build the campus, largely rounding up federal funds and grants.

Volunteers of America for Northern California and the Sierra and Westcare of Nevada have submitted proposals to take over the shelters on July 1. Westcare operates the new triage center for mentally ill and-or substance abusers while the Volunteers of America operates a large senior housing complex. Negotiations for one provider are under way.

Food costs and hiring caseworkers and other professional staff are largely responsible for the increased estimates. The budget for the men's shelter will increase from $257,074 this fiscal year to an estimated $997,136 for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

At the joint meeting, Cashell and Reno Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza pleaded with Washoe County officials to take the primary
role in running the shelters.

County Manager Katy Singlaub said the county is mandated by the state to provide some services at the homeless campus. But since the project was first proposed 20 years ago, she said it has grown from one shelter to three.

Singlaub said the county will be putting $1 million into the shelter, including three social workers and a volunteer coordinator. In addition, the county is turning over $1.5 million over the next few years to help pay for the buildings.

Reno is providing a homeless coordinator, a maintenance worker, and shelter grants that together is worth about $384,000 for operations. It also could reallocate some of its $311,000 federal community block grants that support nonprofit human services.

But Joni Kaiser, director for the Committee to Aid Abused Women, said that would take money from one shelter and give it to another.

"We're all fighting over fewer dollars," she said, adding federal funds have been cut in half over the past five or six years.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)