The City of Reno cleaned and cleared a camp near the Wells Avenue overpass, displacing about 270 houseless individuals on June 3, but a majority of those staying in the camp remained in the area.
About 50 individuals relocated to Brodhead Park, across the Truckee River from the disbanded camp, while others found a new spot along the river. Still others returned to the previously cleared site. Police gave out citations today ordering campers to appear in court in August.
City of Reno spokesperson Jon Humbert could not answer a number of questions as to why the city suddenly started citing people for camping.
“Yesterday was the noticed closure of areas at Broadhead Park and areas by the Wells overpass. Those areas are being cleaned from what campers had left behind,” Humbert said.
He said the sweep and citations were for the safety of those camping.
“None of these areas are authorized for living shelters. [The] Clean and Safe Team staff planned to provide notice to some of the unsheltered population across the other side of the river because of the concerns of their proximity to flooding zones and more immediate danger than park camping,” Humbert said.
The citations raised alarm for homeless advocates who said citations of the homeless by Reno has not occurred in a long time.
There is a limited amount of shelter space in Reno. The day the June 3 sweep occurred, Humbert said there were about 100 beds available in the Reno Events Center.
That facility is slated to become unavailable at the end of June. Families are being relocated to a new shelter, called Our Place, operated by the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality, in Sparks, and women have been relocated to an overflow shelter on Washington Street, in Reno.
The City does not have a plan for the over 200 men staying at the Reno Events Center. There are also barriers to sleeping in shelters for some individuals, as some have pets, are in couples, or do not trust authority.
Those who resettled near the Wells Avenue overpass after the camp was cleared two weeks ago were visited by the City of Reno yesterday and today and told to leave the area, Humbert said.
The City conducted a clean up this morning of the roughly 50-person camp that had set up at Brodhead Park.
ACLU says police citations raise red flags
Police officers cited some individuals in the area for camping along the river this afternoon. The citations include fines and orders to appear in court.
Kristen Stemmer is a master’s of social work intern for the ACLU of Nevada. She observed RPD’s activity, and said about 15 houseless individuals received citations. Stemmer said RPD’s and the City of Reno’s actions raised several red flags.
“From my perspective, it’s really just another example of the police interacting with the public in a role and capacity that they shouldn’t,” Stemmer said. “It just further demonstrates the ongoing systemic patterns of harassment of people experiencing homelessness in Reno and Sparks.”
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve told This Is Reno two weeks ago that more social workers and less police should be involved with taking action against those experiencing homelessness.
Stemmer said that RPD told her it is illegal to camp within a certain distance of the river. She said some of the interactions between houseless individuals and RPD were cordial, while others were not.
RPD did not respond for comment.
Stemmer also noted that there was confusion after RPD gave people citations.
“People are cited until they have to leave, but there was nowhere to go, and people were told by the police, if it looks like they’re packing, then they might not be cited. So, there was just a lot of confusion about what people were actually supposed to do,” she said.
Stemmer also noted concerns about the notices that were given to individuals to clear the area. She said the piece of paper that the City of Reno passed out did not have a date or time of when individuals would need to leave by.
“The issue we have is that many of the paper notices that were given were pretty much blank templates. They didn’t have time, date, location information on them. That really concerns our legal team that some rights were likely violated,” Stemmer said.
This Is Reno asked Humbert why the notices did not have this information and if this is best practice. He did not provide that information in time for publication.
CDC says avoid breaking up camps
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends against displacing houseless individuals from the camps that they’re living in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doing so can contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, such actions can break connections service providers have with unsheltered individuals.
“Everything that’s going on is in direct contrast of CDC guidelines,” Stemmer said. “Any precautions people are able to take at their camp, regarding hygiene, is basically taken away from them when they’re forced to move place-to-place. There’s the issue too that at these camps people are able to spread out, they’re able to have their own community, when that’s dismantled and they’re displaced, they don’t have that anymore, and they really struggle to keep track of hygiene.
“They don’t know where to go. Things like washing your hands becomes really difficult. So, it’s an absolute concern.”
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.