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City Sparks to Homeless on River: Move Along

By Bob Conrad

Homeless camp on the Truckee River. Image: Dana Nollsch.

The city of Sparks is again enforcing its no camping ordinance along the Truckee River, an effort that could leave dozens struggling to find a new place to sleep.

The city is giving notice to campers along the river this week, including the offer for services and enforcement notices. Starting June 11, 2018, enforcement will begin nightly.

“Services will be offered but will not keep campers from being asked to move along,” said Sparks spokesperson Julie Duewel. “The city of Sparks is continuing to work with the Volunteers of America and other service providers to help those camping illegally along the river.

“While we always believe in service first, the city will be informing those illegally camping along the river that they will not be allowed to do so,” Duewel added. “Our Public Works Department and Sparks Police will be working together to both clean up and move them along.”

Sparks cited campers a year ago and threatened them with jail time if they did not leave. One individual, who had health problems from surviving a harsh winter, said he suffered a stroke after Sparks Police took a photo of him during that sweep.

“Police pushed us all the way out to the end of the trail almost into Storey County,” Kenneth Norton told OurTownReno. “But Storey County doesn’t want us either. We just want the struggle to stop.

“We don’t want to go further out there. We can’t. There’s people with missing toes out there. There’s people with infections. They can’t get the medical attention they need out there. Older people get sick sleeping on the river. It’s just too far from everything.”

Where will they go?

A homeless man at Glendale Park showed us a citation he received from Sparks police in 2017.

Legally, a city cannot enforce no-camping ordinances if there is no other place for the houseless to go.

A 2015 federal court filing by the Department of Justice indicated that banning sleeping in public spaces criminalizes homelessness if alternatives are not available.

“When adequate shelter space exists, individuals have a choice about whether or not to sleep in public,” according to the DOJ. “However, when adequate shelter space does not exist, there is no meaningful distinction between the status of being homeless and the conduct of sleeping in public.”

Reno area shelters tend to be full, but some spaces are available now, said Pat Cashell of VOA.

“There’s no way we can take that entire population,” he explained. “But we do have beds available for some of them right now.”

The VOA shelter policy is to house individuals for up to 90 days; after that, they can’t come back for 30 days. Then the cycle repeats.

While homelessness is not a crime, municipalities can cite homeless individuals for other infractions, such as being in a park after dark, or panhandling, in order to discourage their presence.

“We’re definitely interested in looking at that,” Holly Welborn of the Nevada ACLU said to us last year. “If a person is engaging in a life-sustaining activity… they cannot be ticketed for engaging in these activities. If these individuals are being ticketed (during the day when there is nowhere else for them to go), we would definitely be interested in that.

“If the shelter is at capacity, then they should not have been cited,” she added.

Citizen Complaints

Duewel said the homeless sweeps are being prompted by numerous complaints about conditions along the river.

“Our reasons for the increased efforts are for the safety of our Sparks residents,” she said. “We have received many phone calls, emails and social media messages about the situation by the river. Those living along the river are breaking the law and Sparks ordinances.

“It is for their safety and for the safety of our Sparks residents that we will be asking them to move. We want to make the Truckee River a place where we all can feel safe and enjoy.”



Linda June 6, 2018 - 8:48 am

Great article. Thank you.
People need to realize the problems the homeless
People cause.
My BIG question is WHERE do they go to the

Michelle Dobbs June 5, 2018 - 7:47 am

Our family has walked the river path in Sparks numerous times with no feeling of danger. Each time, we receive and give polite greetings and well wishes. Citizen complaints about the encampments do not equal danger. I agree that cities, including City of Sparks should focus on keeping residents safe. Start with the most vulnerable populations. The unsheltered residents are a great starting point.

Renee Huber June 5, 2018 - 3:39 am

Homelessness and the Truckee River
Is this necessity or choice..? What a controversy here in the Reno/Sparks areas.
“I have been riding the bike trail 5-6 days a week for 12 years and unfortunately it should be 14. My legs aren’t’ as shapely as they should be nor my spirit as peaceful and calm as it could be. The bike path was my savior. A place of peace I could enjoy nature; hear the birds enjoying the same, the water swishing over the river rocks, the wind swirling through the trees, the smell of blooming flowers and best of all; just stop and listen. I could think, brainstorm, meditate or whatever you want to name it or just experience all of my senses to be in high gear. It is so great. Please help us keep our Parks in order for the use of all ages and types of citizens to enjoy”!
After reading this newly posted article and reviewing a saved article posted last year of the same subject matter at about the same time; it appears we are obviously faced with the same dilemma now as we were then. What is the dilemma? There are two sides to every story of course; enforcing city ordinances for public safety vs. accepting and ignoring law breaking activity.
One may believe that homelessness is not a crime; true. Homelessness really isn’t the issue here. That is another issue to be handled by another department another way. That would not be an easy chore. The job of the City Public Works is to enforce ordinance for public safety. City ordinances were voted on and put into place for a reason. They are simply there to enforce the law. Please read the list of Ordinances found on the City of Sparks web-site.
Why is it that I need to remove my weeds from my front yard of my own house, blight, or disabled vehicles on my private property, however all the above including the dumping of garbage and glass should be excused in a City park that we all pay for? Why do I need to have a permit or pay taxes to live here and the others do not? Why can I not put signs of my choice outside the street in which I live but the campers can put signs, carts, rigs, tents, garbage, and machinery in the public right-of-way? All these behaviors are in violation of city ordinance. Think about the funds involved in continuous pick up or repairing unnecessarily. These “homeless” citizens should pitch in, but they are creating more work for everyone else. That’s behavior.
These citizens (defined as homeless), exploiting law breaking behaviors are expecting acceptance. These behaviors are excuses; they are choices. Please view closely the pictures posted on the article for your pleasure. They are very accurate. There are no excuses for this behavior. Littering is breaking the law and is unacceptable behavior; period. I will get a ticket for it, why shouldn’t they? I also spend my time on bike maintenance, and money that I have to earn on tubes and tires to enjoy riding my bike. Is it appropriate that I need to buy more because they were ruined by glass from broken bottles or metal junk? Good luck changing behavior! However, you can enforce the law. That’s a choice.
Think about it; it takes a lot of energy to haul all that wood, tree stumps, bikes, carts, luggage, blankets, furniture, car parts and tents, throwing glass bottles on the pavement and to walk miles with it to get it from one place to another. I have seen it in person. If these citizens can expend all this energy, then they can be productive at a job, such as at homeless shelters, resource centers or even City Public Works! Again, homelessness is another issue which comes with many other issues. It is not the City Parks’ responsibility.
Most of this is a choice and a way of life just like any other choice in life. Not all is choice, but those are seeking and getting the resources they need. There are plenty of resources and jobs available out there. There is an enormous amount of free stuff, and maybe too much. There are so many free resources; it simply encourages many to depend on or expect them and not to earn them.

I’ve seen and experienced friendly people, law abiding homeless people, unruly people and things I shouldn’t have seen or experienced on that trail. It was interesting for sure to learn some names and life stories over the 12 years. I met one who chooses to be there. This person does not have any baggage, does not litter, is there during the day enjoying nature and leaves at night by ordinance. Is there anything wrong with that? NO. They are not breaking the law or causing any undue burden for the rest of us citizens.

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