Downtown’s Reno Ambassadors are working extra hours through the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping a close eye on closed businesses and empty streets and helping the homeless community adjust to a new normal.
Grant A. Denton, Operations Manager for the Downtown Reno Partnership Program which manages the Ambassador program, explains that his team of ambassadors are facing “a lot of outside of the norm.”
“Right now it’s really shifted, because there are no consumers really, just about everything has shifted to the homeless population.”
The Downtown Reno Partnership program launched in 2018 with a mission of making downtown Reno safer and friendlier for residents and visitors. Focusing on stabilizing the streets downtown, community development activities and representing all members of the community, the program covers over 120 blocks of downtown Reno. The goals of Reno Ambassadors are to assist in the cleaning, hospitality, safety and community outreach of downtown Reno and displaced citizens.
Working with city officials and local business owners both, Denton emphasizes how the “clean, safe and friendly” approach has been put into overdrive. Paying extra attention to clean up and waste removal from the streets, the Ambassadors are cleaning trash, public areas and storefronts more than ever, disinfecting door handles and pedestrian walk buttons and focusing on surveillance in an area that is largely abandoned.
Executive Director at Downtown Reno Partnership Alex Stettinski is extremely happy with the response the Ambassadors are putting forth to the current crisis.
“When it comes to clean and safe and friendliness they’ve really done a great job, but now with COVID-19 things are just incredible. They’ve really stepped up once more: they’re out and about and they are exposed.”
A tough job that’s not for everyone
Stettinski also noted the extra safety precautions the Ambassadors are employing including gloves, masks and social distancing guidelines while providing the community service.
The program has ramped up patrols for local business as well. Stettinski rented a car for two weeks and had Ambassador patrols implemented until 3 a.m. in order to ensure “extra protection and discourage people doing funny things” in the early stages of the pandemic.
Stettinski is sending the message that, “it’s not a free-for-all at night and people can kind of understand they are being watched.” The shift patrols are still being incorporated into the program, although they have switched back to Segways with the weather warming up.
Acknowledging the initial hurdles with implementing the program, Stettinski has redesigned hiring procedures and training to provide the Ambassadors with the proper skills needed to cope with the sometimes chaotic nature of working as a street-based liaison.
“There’s a fine line, and it took us a good six months to get a team together that really gets it. It’s a really tough job.”
This sentiment was also noted by Denton who is much happier with the current staffing procedures of the program.
Adjusting to a new normal
Stettinski also expressed the value of the investment the program offers in return for the assessed funding it collects from business owners, especially as the city struggles through the state of emergency.
Denton, who has extensive experience working with the homeless community in Reno, says one of the biggest challenges they face is “maintaining the social norms. Change is difficult anytime, but trying to convince a group of people who have difficulty adjusting well to change is real difficult.”
Denton notes the problems the homeless community is having with normal routines including the use of public restrooms and purchasing food items.
“The bigger picture is there’s more educating: real important lifesaving rules. Some people just adjust to change well and being told what to do.”
Grant specifically mentioned the challenges the Ambassadors face with people with mental health issues, but also observed that, “they are adjusting, and the good thing that is going to come out of this is they learned how to follow rules during a pandemic.”
Educational outreach to people living homeless is also a priority for Stettinski during the pandemic. The program issued over 350 flyers directly to individuals living homeless providing crucial safety information for the community including bathroom locations and sanitary hand washing procedures, in addition to what exactly the virus is and how to react to it. The flyer also included maps of county-managed restroom facilities that are sanitized and monitored.
While COVID-19 continues to ravage the world, country and Washoe County with no foreseeable end in sight, Stettinski and the Ambassadors are doing all they can to ensure the safety and protection for all citizens on Reno equally.
Stettinski wants the people of Reno to know the city is in good hands with his crew, and local enforcement and city agencies all working in conjunction with one another. Always proactive in their attempts to serve the city, he simply notes that during this crisis, “it’s always good to have an extra pair of eyes and ears.”
Born in 1971, Eric Marks was fortunate enough to grow up in a time and family where photography and literature were normal parts of his life. His parents were always enthusiastic and supportive of his photography as a child, and encouraged him to read and write as much as possible. From 2005 to 2012 he owned an award-winning, international, high definition video production company, and has produced video and photography in over 14 different countries on four continents. Eric majored at the University of Nevada, Reno in English/Writing and Art, graduating with English and Photography degrees in 2013, and again with an Art degree in 2018. He teaches all genres of photography at Truckee Meadows Community College, is a freelance photojournalist for several publications, and offers private photography instruction.