OPINION: An Army vet comments on Truckee River camps

Garbage from a nearby homeless encampment is seen along the Truckee River.
Tents and garbage from a homeless camp along the bank of the Truckee River.
Photo: Trevor Bexon

By Bruce Parks

I’ve spent many wonderful hours fly-fishing our beautiful Truckee River. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time volunteering on Truckee River clean-ups: removing drug syringes, human feces, and ridiculously large piles of toxic trash. 

Bruce Parks
Bruce Parks

These items were not left by other fly fishermen or family picnics. They were put there by illegal, homeless-by-choice squatters, criminals, and drug addicts. This dangerous group has LESS than no interest in “homeless services” because they have no interest in changing their lifestyles. 

A toothbrush and a pair of socks from self-congratulatory, uninformed do-gooders is not what they want. They just want to be left alone to hide behind the “homeless” label, and pursue self-destructive, parasitic lifestyles with no interference from the Reno Police. 

Sadly, our cops are giving them exactly what they’re asking for. The illegal, riverfront squatters care nothing about this community. They care nothing about the river they’re polluting: the river that supplies 85 percent of the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of us.

For some reason, the Reno Police and City Council allow this riverfront situation to continue and worsen. 

For some reason, the Sparks Police and City Council do NOT allow this situation on their part of the river. 

I spent some time thinking about this discrepancy, and came to two conclusions:

  • It ain’t right.
  • I don’t get it.

It ain’t right

It ain’t right how the neighboring cities of Reno and Sparks receive such different results from their police departments. Both departments are tasked with enforcing the same laws – on the same part of the Truckee River. Both police departments are dealing with the same criminal/vagrant population. The taxpayers of both cities pay their police force the same amount to keep their citizens and water source safe. 

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But the results are NOT the same.

Reno’s riverfront areas are fouled with filth and crime and unusable. Sparks’ riverfront area is much cleaner, safer and more usable.

One city is getting their money’s-worth from their police force. One city is not.

I don’t get It

I don’t understand why the Reno Police and City Council have let the illegal river camps get so out of control that I need to carry a .45 when I go fly-fishing. 

I don’t understand why, year after year, the Reno City Council and police leadership let this problem worsen, and STILL get re-elected and maintain their jobs.

My career in the military, especially my years in combat zones, taught me that there’s a difference between “right” and “wrong.” It taught me that any problem can be fixed, but it requires personal accountability. 

By ANY way of figuring, Reno’s riverfront squatters’ camps are “wrong.” Many people are being well-paid to fix this problem and are not getting the job done. Their ineffectiveness is seriously endangering the community’s future. 

The people responsible need to be held accountable for resolving this problem immediately, or they need to be replaced. 


Bruce Parks, is a Sparks resident and avid fly fisherman. He retired from the U.S. Army after 20+ years as an aircraft mechanic, nuclear/biological/chemical operations specialist, and combat veteran. He is also a member of American Patriots of Sparks, Nevada.

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14 Comments

  1. I agree with the Veteran’s opinion and all the comments regarding this homeless problem 100%. These people do not need coddling like the same laws don’t apply to them but apply to us or the activist groups feeling sorry for them giving handouts.
    This is not a bandaid situation! This is a big problem that requires a solution now!
    Instead of repeating what everybody already said I’ll just leave this here for the City Council to consider:
    Has anyone ever ever seen a city brochure with beautiful pictures of scenery, attractions, all it has to offer with people enjoying themselves walking the trail along the down town river where the homeless people are piling up garbage? Definitely not the homeless pic. First impressions mean a lot. We have depended on vacationers, gamblers, attraction visitors, business conferences for revenue. We can’t hardly afford to live here now. We definitely cannot afford to lose any revenue. Thank you

  2. The blame lies squarely with our elected officials. They alone have the power to “work the system” so the latest and most innovative breakthroughs in housing design and construction can be applied to the Truckee Meadows. Countries all over the world are building very livable cities at a fraction of the sticker prices on homes built in the United States. The U.S. construction industry has conducted a several decades-long “zone of silence” about housing design breakthroughs that they conveniently ignore because the NEWLY REDESIGNED homes and high rises are better built at lower cost. Contractors are not willing to spill the beans on these new housing approaches because they don’t want to work in factories. But how do we make cars? Certainly not in our driveways! Google “modular mid-rise condos and apartments.” They’re going up all over America and the world. Enforced ignorance is the problem that perpetuates our continued housing crisis. Look up Guerdon Modular Buildings, Full Stack Modular, Modular Building Institute…they go on and on. And they’re revolutionizing our expectations for quality human habitat at less than half the cost of “old fashioned” construction. And it’s a whole lot easier on trees.

  3. Society has chosen to close down the long-term psychiatric facilities in favor of placing the severely mentally ill back into the community and 25 years after the last facilities closed we have this situation. These asylums closed after a history of abuse, neglect, and experimentation. Now we also have a very abusive situation where people who are unable to care for themselves are free to make their illnesses worse by alcohol, drugs, not eating, not sleeping, and not receiving any type of treatment. We have to create some type of protective custody for them because they are self-sabatoging and out of control on their own. Either the federal government or States have to set up humane, long-term facilities because living outdoors in the elements and the hot potato approach of moving them to different locales isn’t working. It would be cheaper than dealing with the costs of police, fire, EMTs, emergency rooms, and jails constant interactions with them. It is glaringly obvious that left to their own devices they are unable to take care of themselves. I am talking especially about those with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and long-term methamphetamine addicts. Maybe some of the people not affected by psychosis can be rehabilitated, but the people suffering from psychosis need permanent protective custody.

  4. The homeless problem as Bruce points out is very serious. It appears to be escalating and risks it presents need to be addressed. Like Bruce I share the passion for fly fishing, and on a blue ribbon river like the Truckee you can see where the lack of regulation of homeless camps is impacting our quality of life, the flow of business, and detracts from the investment we put into the river as sportsmen.

  5. I agree with a large part of what you’ve written Bruce. HOWEVER, considering the housing situation currently
    I don’t know how service industry workers are surviving here now. I REALLY don’t understand why the city is trying to make it impossible for lower income folks to survive. Who do they think is going to do all the “menial” tasks if a mid-management position equals BARELY living? I’m in a skilled trade and at better than double minimum wage, my options are:
    1) alter the amount going to debts (student loan and medical. No credit debt at all) and pay better than 50% of my take home for shelter.
    2) share a dwelling (quite frankly I’m FED UP with trying to sort the druggies, slobs, terrible “pet parents”, etc. from the possible great roomies because even sharing leaves you with bills high enough that ya SHOULD have the place to yourself, but don’t so you’re still stuck supplying other people’s food and toiletries unwillingly and hearing all their drama when you just want to go FULLY deaf until 04:30).
    3) give up and live out of a vehicle.

    I’m no stranger to starting over. I’ve been all over. But I have a boss that is just AWESOME. I NEVER want to look for another job. I’ll do a LOT to make that reality.

    But the longer I look for shared housing that’s NOT going to land me in jail for someone else’s drugs/actions, protecting a child or animal, make me nauseous thinking of going there, require locks and jimmies to keep me aware of unauthorized access to my space or get me hit on every time the alcohol comes out, the more I think “homelessness” may just be the only way to keep my sanity. I’m not sure I can take another 3 years of this. And I ABSOLUTELY DO make enough that I SHOULD be able to live alone and still pay ALL my bills. That’s just not possible in Reno now.

    The “affordable” housing going up is not affordable. Even if it were, it’s far enough from work that the gas negates them as a possibility. I NEED to be inside McCarren. So I can see how it’s possible that SOME of the folk along the river MAY be in similar positions (though I would think the crowding there anymore would dissuade most daytime working folk, really). So what would you propose for us single, professional females who aren’t able to live alone in this city anymore? Because at this stage in life, anyone with a good work ethic ABSOFREAKINLUTELY DESERVE an empty home they can walk into stripping as they go after work.

    P.S. PLEASE don’t say “find one of them”. Women were simply not meant to live under the same roof unless one is a child.😁

  6. I agree with this article. When I worked construction, I lived in my RV. There in RV parks I met homeless people, living in their RV working a job to get back on their feet. These folks along our river and under overpasses are not people who lost their home. These are squatters, living on tax payers property. I agree we should help homeless people but in return they will help themselves. These folks are lazy squatters and need to be removed. I also worked with the Red Cross and seen the difference of temporary homelessness and lazy squatters.

  7. Great article. Most all of these squatters are mentally ill and/or drug addicted. As Parks says, they either can’t or do not want to change enough (E.g., give up the drugs/alcohol, get counseling, etc.) to be eligible for the many free social services that are ready to help them move into jobs or housing. I hope Reno will learn from other cities with failed policies for the homeless. And hopefully, learn from the cities who have found successful policies, too.

  8. I commend Bruce Sparks on his comments about the homeless problem along the beautiful Truckee River in Reno and Sparks. Both cities need to clean up this mess and not permit this to continue. I used to travel in the 80’s on business to New York city. The homeless problem and the graffitti covered subways was a menace to all visitors to the city. Finally, the city cleaned up the mess and the homeless encampments were removed and not allowed to develop. Every city in the country has laws against vagrancy and these laws need to be enforced. If the homeless want to remain the way they are and not seek treatment or help, then they should organize themselves and move with permits, into areas of the country that could legally be developed into self-maintained camp like the Israelies did when they developed the Israelie Kabootz after the 2nd World War. Everyone who occupied these camps had a job and everyone learned all the jobs necessary for the camp to survive. Everyone rotated jobs so that each person learned all the jobs necessary to survive in a desert. If they could do this to survive (and look how well they did), so could the homeless. Allowing the homeless to occupy the Truckee Riverbanks is a travesty and favors those rather than the majority of people who would otherwise love to enjoy these beautiful areas. It is up to the citizens of Reno and Sparks to make their feelings known to their city council members, show up and speak to these issues at the council meetings or express their feelings in as many public forums as possible. We have a great deal of apathy in our community which, allows problems like this to be ignored.

  9. O I absolutely agree with this article. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know Reno is quickly losing a valuable resource in the downtown Truckee river corridor. For years we have enjoyed biking along the river and having lunch downtown. We did that about a year ago and I was absolutely disgusted at how trashed and overrun the river corridor has become. Our elected officials should be ashamed that they have let that get so out of control. I urge them to take a walk down the bike path sometime. I think it will be an eye-opening experience.

  10. Thank You Mr.Bruce Parks!!!!!! I am so glad that You have written about those “illegal homeless by choice”again.I am surprised that there are groups of volunteers who make the situation worse by bringing food,blankets to the homeless camps(encouraging them to continue their irresponsible and careless way of life)instead of removing the mess and cleaning our beautiful river-walks and parks.Rotary club sculptures at Bicentennial park are created just for homeless-to hang their dirty belongings ,sleep and pee because ordinary tax-payers follow the rules “Do not touch artwork”.Please,city authorities responsible for making our area safe and attractive to live for hard working people and seniors,read that article by Bruce Parks again……

  11. He is right because the problem is worsened when a community tolerates it. I have been living in Fallon for the past few years where there are no visible homeless, no gang problems, and no recreational marijuana sales. Other than the past few years, I spent my whole life in Reno-Sparks. In the early 1980’s there were only a handful of homeless older male alcoholics you would see in doorways of closed-down businesses on the West side of downtown. They didn’t panhandle, commit crimes against other people, erect tents, have piles of collected garbage treasures, or poop in the open. These new homeless are products of their drugs, probably have permanently affected their brain function. It looks like one of those hoarder shows, collecting useless trash to barricade themselves. There are trash cans at all parks and public restrooms in the casinos downtown. These people are obviously mentally ill and should be placed in protective custody for their safety. They no longer can make proper decisions like staying indoors when it’s too cold or too hot or staying away from drugs and alcohol. Should never have torn down the old hospital at NNAMHS campus. We need somewhere to place these people. Sad thing is this is probably just the tip of the iceberg because this younger generation is way too tolerant of alcohol and drugs, without acknowledging the dangers it can cause to some people. All you see opening in Reno is bars, brew pubs, distilleries, and a pub crawl for every reason. Better also build places for the casualties of all that partying.

  12. I hear his frustration…and valid..we have a cleaning company and put those who what a different life to work..their mindset is different. I belive moving them on before we turn into LA

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