Robbery Leaves Some Reno Homeless Without Beds

Mar 4, 2016


Sandy Isham, Development and Community Relations Officer Volunteers of America Northern Nevada.
Credit Steve Shadley

Homeless people who sleep in shelters are struggling to find a bed in downtown Reno. As Reno Public Radio's Steve Shadley reports, thieves stole copper from one popular shelter and now the building can't house the people who need it.


The vandalism happened late last month at an overflow shelter run by the local Volunteers of America or VOA. Sandy Isham is the shelter's community relations director.

"It was made uninhabitable when the copper wiring was stolen, a gas meter was stolen,” Isham said. “It created quite a bit of havoc. It resulted in some flooding and the building is just done."

On a busy night, more than 120 people used to stay at the overflow shelter. Now VOA is searching for a new building in Reno where the homeless can find a warm place to sleep when temperatures fall near freezing.

"In the meantime what we are doing is accommodating people who would be in winter overflow inside the dayrooms of our men's and women's shelters,” Isham said."

The overflow shelter is only one of the buildings VOA has on its campus. Other facilities were not burglarized including the shelter's dayrooms. Isham offers a tour but before we get there we have to go through a series of locked doors. Safety is a priority.

"So we just passed the front desk of the family shelter and now we're coming by the laundry room," Isham said.

There's also a huge kitchen and a few couches where the homeless can relax. Next door, we walk into the women's dayroom. It's a bright and cozy space with a bunch of picnic tables that are doubling as beds right now.

Sandy Isham: "So you can sit up at a table at night if you can't get a bed,”

Steve Shadley: “So you actually have to sit up to sleep?”

Sandy Isham:  “I'm not sure how much sleeping is going on. It’s like sleeping at the airport. I mean you do the best you can."

Conditions have been overcrowded since the burglary.  But, the staff members here try to keep a positive attitude.  Bree Henderson has worked at the shelter for two years.  She believes in what she's doing.

"I've seen a lot of women come in and get back on their feet really quick and then some it takes a while," Henderson said.

30-year-old Andrea Vasquez has been living on the streets for a few years.  She comes to the shelter when it's too cold to sleep outside.

Vasquez says she's struggling with the flu or bronchitis and hopes her illness isn't spreading to the other women there.  She's trying to find another place to sleep that isn't so crowded but she's not having any luck.

Andrea Vasquez: "There's other shelters, but they're full. They're very full and one told me already like 90 days - that's three months. That's a long time.”  

Steve Shadley: “A 90-day waiting list?”

Andrea Vasquez: “Yeah.”

Steve Shadley: “Do you live by yourself? Do you have kids or anything?”

Andrea Vasquez: “I have kids but they are not with me right now.  But, I'm trying to get my own place."

Vasquez is confident things will eventually get better.  Meanwhile, VOA hopes it can find a warehouse where the homeless can rest comfortably. So far, a few prospects have not worked out.  The good news is they have funding from the city and county to pay rent once they locate a new home - hopefully before the end of winter.