The City of Reno and Reno Police Department (RPD) gave about 50 houseless individuals camping near the Truckee River a 24-hour verbal notice to leave the area on June 17.
Jon Humbert, public information officer with the City of Reno, said people are not allowed to camp in the area.
“There aren’t any authorized camping areas for the public. People aren’t allowed in that area because of safety issues, the fire lane and access, and concerns of the river and railroad tracks. There are signs in many areas,” he said.
A majority of those individuals resettled in the area after being displaced by the City of Reno’s clearing of a 270-person camp in the same area, underneath the Wells Avenue overpass, about two weeks ago.
There is limited space at shelters in Reno. The Reno Events Center, which has the capacity to shelter about 375 individuals, is slated to close at the end of the month. There are about 100 beds currently available, according to the City of Reno.
Unsheltered families are being moved into the new shelter, Our Place, operated by the non-profit Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality. Women have been relocated to the overflow shelter on Washington Street.
The City has not identified a new location for the more than 200 houseless men currently sleeping at the Reno Events Center.
City employees and police officers returned to the area on June 18, and 10 to 15 individuals were issued citations, which included notices of fines and orders to appear in court..
Humbert said the citations were given to people for not leaving the area and camping after the 24-hour notice. Homeless advocates said they have not seen RPD issue citations like this in a long time.
“Based on my experience on these cleanups and follow-ups, it is very rare for citations to be issued,” Humbert said.
This Is Reno repeatedly asked city officials: Why now, and who ordered the sudden change to cite people? They would not answer.
Humbert said the Reno Police Department did not need authorization.
“RPD has discretion for any citations,” he said. “When the 24-hour verbal noticing has expired, officers are allowed to issue those citations. This process has been followed within the letter of law. Paper noticing is an additional method to help, but is not required.”
Rebecca Venis, the City’s director of neighborhood services, said RPD has always had the ability to cite people camping on public property along the Truckee River, according to Reno Municipal Code.
“While officers have the discretion to issue citations when the life safety for the campers or general public is threatened, it has been a last resort as fees can create further hardship for unsheltered campers,” Venis told This Is Reno.
She also did not answer who ultimately ordered the ticketing or why it is happening now, during a pandemic.
Concerns about citations
In addition to unsheltered individuals getting ticketed, a 50-person camp that sprung up across the Truckee River also got cleared by the City of Reno the morning of June 18.
The Executive Director of the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE), Benjamin Castro, provided This Is Reno a statement on the City of Reno and RPD’s actions.
“We are deeply concerned with the recent, consecutive sweeps ordered by the City of Reno against our houseless neighbors,” Castro said. “With public housing options at capacity or waitlisted for months, we believe it to be unconstitutional to break up these camps and find this treatment of our neighbors to be cruel and unusual punishment per the 9th Circuit ruling on Martin v. City of Boise. Furthermore, these actions on behalf of the City of Reno contradict the guidelines established by the CDC in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wonder what the public cost was to have these officers issue fines and citations to the most vulnerable in our community and if those funds would have been better spent issuing housing vouchers instead. It appears as if our local leaders are tone deaf to the national conversation around defunding the police and have decided to double-down on the failed strategy of eradicating homelessness through criminalization,” Castro added.
The City of Reno did not comment to a question as to how much the ticketing cost.
RPD did not respond for comment. Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said she was unaware of the fines and citations. City of Reno PR officials did not respond to a question as to how it was possible the mayor was not informed of these activities.
Lucia Starbuck is a graduate of University of Nevada, Reynolds School of Journalism. She has reported on issues impacting Northern Nevada, including the affordable housing crisis, a lack of oral healthcare and challenges voters with disabilities face while trying to participate in the election process. She has directed and filmed two documentaries about homelessness.Through reporting, Lucia strives to shine a light on the challenges vulnerable populations face in our community.