CITY: Downtown Benches Removed To Reduce Sleeping, Panhandling

Image courtesy Jay Kolbet-Clausell.
Image courtesy Jay Kolbet-Clausell.

A deluge of complaints prompted the city to remove 68 benches from downtown. The removal was to reduce sleeping and panhandling primarily at the former bus station on Center Street, according to the city.

“The city at large had complained enough that it became a nuisance,” said Matt Brown, city spokesperson.

Brown said that most of the benches were removed because of complaints by tourists, nearby businesses and citizens.

“The purpose of the benches no longer applies (since there’s) no longer a bus station there,” he added. It’s part of “all things the city deals with. We want to be friendly to citizens, tourists and businesses.”

The issue was noted by a Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality volunteer, who posted a picture of homeless spikes and removed benches online, said Jay Kolbet-Clausell, executive clerk for Reno-Sparks Neighborhoods. “A Reno Direct employee quickly responded to my inquiry with a disturbing account detailing the direct connection casinos and wealthy citizens have over our public process.”

A city staff person attributed the complaint to downtown casinos and the bowling stadium, and Brown said the city used money from its blight fund to pay for the benches to be removed.

He cited a June 2015 council meeting, where “the Council approved identified approaches to address blight within the city and directed staff to work with all departments and agencies that would facilitate identifying and addressing blighted properties or circumstances that contributed to blight within the city.”

“Removing the benches was of minimal cost to the city, as it involved primarily staff time to remove bolts,” Brown said. “The overall cost of the blight mitigation and enhancement project was about $10,000, which included placing rocks in the planters and installing decorative iron work.”

He said that the removal is temporary and that the decision was made by the city manager, chief of police and the city attorney.

The removal hasn’t sat well with advocates for the homeless.

Mike Thornton of ACTIONN called the removal of benches harassment.

“It’s the same sort of stuff that other cities do,” he said. “They find ways to push people in the hopes that they go away. When does it end?”

Citing $500 tickets issued for urban camping, and the Nevada Department of Transportation hiring armed security to remove homeless camps from under highways, he asked: “Is it a pattern? It sure looks like it’s a conscious decision.”

Questions were again raised about how city decisions are being made.

“Without any public discussion, the city manager, RPD and code enforcement used the much debated blight funds to destroy a popular park in the downtown entertainment district,” Kolbet-Clausell said.

“The project cost was minimal enough that it did not require a public hearing,” Brown said, adding that the city is committed to solving the larger problem of homelessness.

A homeless man interviewed at Our Town Reno by Jose Olivares had this to say about the site:

“This is a really nice shady spot to relax. A lot of people rely on it out here. A lot of times people come here in the morning to finish sleeping because the overflow [shelter], they make you get up at three-thirty or four in the morning and they just drop you off so people come over here and sleep. I’ve slept here a bunch. I have a lot of friends and family who relied on [the benches] and slept on them.”

The former downtown bus station prior to benches being removed.
The former downtown bus station prior to benches being removed.

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About Bob Conrad 843 Articles

Bob Conrad is co-founder of ThisisReno. He manages ThisisReno and Conrad Communications, LLC, his marketing communications consulting company (disclosure: he has two part-time contracts working for the University of Nevada, Reno). He is an adjunct faculty member at Truckee Meadows Community College and is a regular contributor to Reno Public Radio.