A video circulating online is stirring outrage over what homeless advocates are calling the abhorrent treatment of houseless individuals camping near the Truckee River. The video allegedly shows an NDOT employee throwing rocks at the homeless as he proceeds to clean up a campsite across the river from Fisherman’s Park.
City of Reno officials were also nearby, along with caseworkers and Reno Police, cleaning up camps at the park.
During the cleanup, however, a worker is seen tossing what appears to be debris. The woman shooting the video, Meghan Simons, said rocks were being thrown at the homeless who were trying to retrieve their belongings.
“I witnessed this person screaming at another man across the water who was calling him a thief,” she told This Is Reno.
Nevada Department of Transportation spokesperson Meg Ragonese said the behavior documented in the video is unacceptable.
“Our personnel conduct guidelines prohibit threatening, harmful, insulting or abusive behaviors,” she said. “We are expected to treat all those we interact with in our community with kindness and respect, and we extend sincere apologies for any actions not meeting those expectations.
“We will be carefully reviewing this incident and will take all appropriate action deemed necessary. The behavior in this video absolutely does not represent the values and priorities of NDOT,” Ragonese added.
City disputes advocate comments
Advocates said notices to those living in these areas have been deficient, and no notices were posted notifying people of the clean-up activities. City Manager Newby disputed comments that not enough notice was given to those camping.
“By law, agencies must provide 24-hour written or verbal notice before any sort of cleanup may begin,” said city spokesperson Jon Humbert. “The City of Reno instead spent two weeks informing and assisting more than 60 people along the river.”
Of the 24 people who were present yesterday, Humbert said:
- 20 refused services.
- One man accepted a shelter bed from the VOA representative.
- One man and one woman accepted reserved shelter beds at the CAC.
- One woman was transported by REMSA as a result of receiving burns to her leg after sleeping too close to a warming fire.
The shelters have been consistently full this time of year.
Lieutenant Joe Robinson from the Reno Police Department wrote in an internal email that no law enforcement action was taken at yesterday’s cleanup “as everyone complied to vacate the area while the cleaning took place.
“On January 9, 2020, at approximately 0500 hours members of the Reno Police Department’s Community Action and Outreach Team again went to the area and informed those folks still camping that the cleanup crew (COIT and Reno Public Works) would be on scene at 0800 hours to begin the cleaning process to avoid further action taken against the City of Reno by the Washoe County Health District.”
The city was quick to distance itself from the worker in the video.
“While this community reaction concerns an individual who is not part of our team, it nevertheless reinforces our own commitment to preserving the safety of our community while upholding the dignity of human beings,” Newby said.
City, RGJ, TMWA and Waste Management cited for health violations
The City of Reno has an ongoing campaign to clean up the camps.
The reason: The Washoe County Health District cited the City of Reno and other property owners–including the Reno Gazette Journal, TMWA and Waste Management–for health code violations stemming from homeless camps. (The RGJ building was sold to the city in August, but the Health District sent the violation notice to the RGJ headquarters in November.)
The Reno City Council in early December approved to pay more than $250,000 to a contractor for clean-up efforts around the city.
Health District notices of violation stem at least in part from complaints by Jeff Church and Paul White (QOL-Reno), who have been aggressively pushing local governments to clean up homeless encampments.
“If the City of Reno did not clean and improve safety in the area, we potentially faced a criminal citation,” City Manager Sabra Newby wrote in an email today.
The Health District issued violations “regarding improper storage and disposal of solid waste as it pertains to (Health District regulations).” It ordered property owners to clean up sites within 14 days.
The Health District initially denied public records requests for the health citations citing “pending investigations.”
Ultimately three notices were provided after This Is Reno attorney Stephanie Rice called the district’s response unacceptable. They show three notices were issued in November.
“At the time you submitted your public records request, the WCHD has only received one complaint where property owners along the Truckee River were sent Notices of Violation,” said Jim English with the Health District. “That complaint was still an open and ongoing investigation. Since the investigation is open, the WCHD does not provide any information regarding the investigation.”
Church sent to the news media two additional citations issued by the Health District to TMWA and the City of Reno. They were both dated December 27, 2019.
English said on December 31 that only one additional violation was being investigated.