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City looks at options for extreme cold sheltering
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City looks at options for extreme cold sheltering

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ELKO – City staff will continue discussions to come up with “some sort of extreme cold weather scenario” for sheltering homeless people, Assistant City Manager Scott Wilkinson told the Elko City Council this week.

The effort is under way after Friends In Service Helping asked that the council terminate its memorandum of understanding with Elko that called for FISH to provide the extreme weather shelter in coordination with the city.

FISH and the city worked together to open an area of the FISH facility when temperatures hit zero or below, but Wilkinson said finding and keeping volunteers to stay on site was difficult for FISH.

“It’s been problematic to get that shelter staffed,” he said.

COVID-19 restrictions added to the burden, and the FISH board of directors voted to terminate the MOU and asked the council to agree to the termination.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic our agency is not equipped to safely operate this nor staff the shelter,” the board chairman, Robert Leonhardt, wrote to City Manager Curtis Calder.

No one from FISH or the public commented at the council meeting Tuesday at the Elko Convention Center, but the council talked about such options as motel rooms for the homeless in severely cold weather.

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Mayor Reece Keener questioned whether the city could be reimbursed for hotel rooms under the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act), and Wilkinson said he thought so. But he said staff was also looking at liability for the city, including if individuals don’t make it to a motel.

Wilkinson said that “in reality, a lot of people don’t report to the cold weather shelter.”

FISH has said that as many as 15 people had showed up at its shelter in the extreme cold, but Calder said that sometimes no one or only a few arrived.

Councilman Robert Schmidtlein asked whether the city was required to provide a facility.

City Attorney David Stanton said the city has an obligation to provide a place for the homeless to go, which is why the city established a humanitarian campground, but the city “is not required to provide a heated facility in the winter or air conditioning in the summer.”

There also could be liability if motel rooms are damaged, he said.

Stanton said the city needs to check with its insurance pool on the liability questions.

“I will talk with Scott and work through it,” he said.

FISH is a nonprofit agency located on Water Street, where it operates a food bank, now drive-up because of COVID-19; a soup kitchen, also now drive-up; and more for people in need.

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