There is an overwhelming lack of data Washoe County is using in order to justify the County receiving millions of dollars in federal grants. The lack of experience of County staff and questionable decisions has caused costly missteps at the expense of taxpayers and the public for the CARES Campus in Reno which is under the oversight of County Manager Eric Brown.
According to a story published in 2020 by This Is Reno, the Reno City Council put forth a resolution for the purchase of Governor’s Bowl Park at East 7th Street near the Spaghetti Bowl to be used as regional shelter to house those experiencing homelessness.
“The regional homeless advisory board, comprising County and City Officials from Sparks and Reno, supports the use of Governor’s Bowl Park for the emergency shelter…According to the city, 459 individuals generally recreate during the day and stay overnight in parks, open spaces, sidewalks, abandoned buildings, and other locations….” (emphasis added).
The City of Reno was awarded approximately $51.5 million in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The funds may be spent on projects and programs that support the mitigation of ongoing COVID-19 impacts and recovery efforts from the pandemic. All of the funds must be spent within the allowable categories identified by the federal legislation and the rules issued by the U.S. Treasury Department.
In May 17, 2021, the Nevada CARES Campus opens which is a tent–with no heat or air conditioning– featuring 604 Beds. The County claims the shelter ran at 88% occupancy for the first year.
The Reno Gazette Journal reported: “The 45,900 square foot shelter can hold up to 900 people and will include wrap-around services for clients,” said Jon Humbert, public information officer for the city of Reno,”It was funded using federal relief funds sent to local and state governments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In July 2021, responsibility for all homeless services, including financial, were transferred to Washoe County.
Below are photos of the campus which utilized Federal COVID Grant dollars that did not comply with COVID protocols of social distancing nor did it meet the grant requirement of “to decrease the spread of the Coronavirus.”
In June 2022, the RSJ reported that the CARES campus “found itself at the center of scrutiny thanks, in part, to a ceiling collapse, rampant mold and safety concerns.”
The homeless seeking shelter were met with moldy showers, were frozen in the winter months due to lack of heating, and in the summer months, found no relief from the heat. The tent was not equipped to handle these issues, especially with people sleeping on top of one another, and the environment did not protect people from Coronavirus but added health risks which should have never happened had professionals properly addressed this issue from the beginning.
Who are the so-called “experts” who decided to spend over $78 million dollars for this CARES Campus, which does not comply with federal grant rules, restrictions, and requirements to spend those funds? Who is Dana Searcy and how did she qualify for her position to manage millions of Federal Grant funds for the CARES Campus under the watchful eye of Washoe County Manager Eric P. Brown?
Searcy was hired by Washoe County in 2017 as a Management Analyst. In December 2018, she assumed the role of Special Projects Manager. This marked the beginning of her work in “Homeless Services” under the direction of County Manager Eric Brown. Her official role of Housing and Homeless Services Manager, according to her LinkedIn profile, began in July 2021. According to Searcy’s LinkedIn profile, her qualifications prior to Washoe County snapping her up? The Reno Air Racing Association.
Searcy was hired to help Brown manage millions of dollars in federal grants for Washoe County despite having no experience with establishing, managing, or navigating the intricacies of homeless housing or servicing in any capacity.
Due to her (their) lack of experience, Searcy and Brown contracted with a Canadian based company to provide Washoe County and assessment on a local issue.
In July 2022, The Reno Gazette Journal interviewed Searcy and reported:
“Everybody sat around the table and really spent a lot of time diving into how we can improve things in our region on the homeless service front,” Searcy said.
OrgCode Consulting – which helps nonprofits and governments reduce homelessness – was asked to do research on how the region was doing and how it could do better.
A regional effort was not put into motion then, but seeds were planted.
About a year later, Eric Brown was hired as county manager.
“It was apparent from the beginning that he really wanted to talk about homelessness and how we can start to move the needle,” Searcy said. “So that continued the conversation.”
The pandemic inspired the next big step.
Why did County Manager Brown and Searcy contract with a company in Canada going to provide framework for a local regional issue and how much did this cost Washoe County? Why would Washoe County not lean on local contractors or experts instead of looking to resources located not just outside of Nevada, but outside of the country.
Back in April 2020, Washoe County’s website announced they are part of a Nationwide program called Built For Zero. Searcy spearheaded this program which aims to end Homelessness. According to the program and Washoe County’s website as of April 2023, Searcy is still stuck on Phase Two out of a total of Five Phases: Counting the number of homeless in Washoe County so appropriate funding and resources can be established to properly address the issue.
This is the Action Plan to “end homelessness” that Searcy was hired to manage, as posted on the Washoe County website. Note that it’s still incomplete.
In January 2021, Searcy and Washoe County published a comprehensive Built For Zero report outlining number of available beds in Washoe County used to identify gaps in the community. Searcy presents an interesting caveat in her report, which is critical for federal grants being utilized by Washoe County:
“We want to be clear about what is included in our data and what is not: The HUD Housing Inventory Count performed annually by the CoC (Continuum of Care- HUD Funded) is different from this, but there is some overlap between the two. Additionally, we did not include programs that fall into the next step of transitioning out of homelessness including affordable and subsidized housing.”
In February 2, 2021, Searcy goes on record with This Is Reno, and shared that local governments have no idea how many homeless people are in the area. Searcy said 76% of the 1,436 are housed in a housing program or emergency center, and the remaining number, about 340, are verified or assumed to be without a shelter.
“No one in our community has an accurate count of the unsheltered population,” Searcy added. She cited the annual point-in-time counts, an approved method by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as part of why counts vary among local governments. “The point-in-time count methodology is not accurate,” Searcy said.
In July 6, 2022, according to Searcy’s interview with the Reno Gazette Journal, their access to millions of dollars in federal grants is why Washoe County consolidated Homeless Services under their umbrella. Interesting.
In addition, Searcy votes to not meet monthly with the Homeless Advisory Board, as reported by OurTown Reno, which contradicts her flowery “Built for Zero” reports published on the County website. Thankfully, one Sparks City Council member is attempting to hold Washoe County accountable, but even he was met with resistance: “Sparks Council member Kristopher Dahir was the lone holdout saying the region has yet to provide a “path into housing,” for the hundreds and hundreds of unhoused community members.”
In April 2023, questions from Our Town Reno about spending concerns go ignored by the County:
Our Town Reno emails to Commissioner Alexis Hill, County spokeswoman Bethany Drysdale and Housing and Homeless Services Manager Dana Searcy asking if they had any concerns for the future of the Cares Campus went unanswered.”
Our Town Reno also asked Drysdale, Searcy and Hill about Picon Press Media expressing spending concerns on its Facebook about the three-year lease at 170 South Virginia Street, Reno for $643,679.05 for offices for the Cares Campus team and the approval of $225,170.73 for office furniture for the team for the three-year lease.
“Do you believe those are valid concerns, or would you say those amounts of spending were justified?” we asked. Those queries were also not answered.
It’s now May 2023, and Washoe County’s website states they are still in Step Two out of Five in this national movement to end homelessness, which Searcy runs, Eric Brown oversees, and Commissioner Alexis Hill fundraises for…what is actually happening here?
Despite not having concrete numbers from Sparks and the rest of Washoe County, and despite entering into a contract with a Canadian consulting firm to obtain local strategy, Washoe Commissioners moved forward with 35 new partnerships and continues to spend millions of dollars on homeless shelters and housing.
Not only does Washoe County not have accurate numbers to justify any of the grants applied for and money received and spent, but they’ve also entered into contract with 35 other agencies who are also being paid with millions of dollars of grant funds.
Washoe County officials seem quick to apply for and spend millions of dollars in federal grants, without exercising due diligence as for what is best for the community in which they have a responsibility to serve.
Despite still NOT having concrete numbers of the total number of homeless needing placement in Washoe County and having 735 Beds/Units available for local Homeless, Washoe County Commissioners voted to increase the funding on these projects from $38 million to a staggering $70 million dollars.
Despite poor decisions in the past which were not well conceived, did not comply with Federal Grant rules or requirements, and put people in danger of mold, safety, and at risk for Coronavirus, the County Commissioners are throwing more money at the problem and not taking any responsibility for their careless decisions.
In summary, it’s clear the CARES Campus was thrown together by people who lacked the experience, knowledge, and foresight to manage this massive project. In addition, it seems clear Washoe County is using incomplete data to apply for and qualify for federal grants and are not complying with the US Treasury requirements.
This is problematic for the 35 organizations they’ve contracted with in providing services for the CARES Campus, which is running though tens of millions of dollars for less than 800 people.
In the last Washoe County Commissioner’s Meeting, where gavel-swinging Alexis Hill spent a better part of the meeting harassing, silencing, rebuking, and tormenting the Public at Large, one woman looked at the Board of Commissioners, and full of exasperation, she said: “It’s all about the money.”
Her assessment seems to be on point. There’s a big problem in Washoe County and it is going to take a concerted effort to stop the bleeding.
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