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City cleans trash from camp, lets unsheltered individuals remain in the area

By Lucia Starbuck
Published: Last Updated on
Image: Lucia Starbuck/This Is Reno.
Image: Lucia Starbuck/This Is Reno.

The City of Reno has cleaned and cleared about six camps over the last month, displacing several small camps of less than 10 unsheltered individuals and a large camp, where almost 300 individuals were living

The City’s Clean and Safe Team conducted a cleaning of a small camp of about a dozen people experiencing homelessness near the intersection of West Fourth Street and Stoker Avenue on Thursday. 

This time was a little different. The individuals did not have to pack their belongings and find a new place to sleep at night. Instead, the City threw away trash within the camp, and let those living there remain in place.

Chris, who did not want to provide his last name, has been staying at the camp for about three to four months. On Monday, June 29, a dumpster was placed near one end of the camp. Chris was present when the Reno Public Works Department delivered the dumpster on Monday, and helped sort through some stuff to throw away when the City returned on Thursday.

“If they’re polite, I’ll be polite. You know what I mean? It’s all about respect,” Chris said. “This is a whole different lifestyle than people realize.”

The Clean and Safe Team said Reno Direct has been receiving calls and complaints by people driving by on 4th Street about how the camp looks.

“[Experiencing homelessness] just makes you humble,” Chris said. “I think everybody should be able to try this experience at least once, then people wouldn’t be able to have to judge people and put people down.”

Chris is originally from Oregon but has been in Reno for about a year. He said his stimulus check from the IRS was sent to Oregon, and he had to get it sent to Reno. He said once he receives his check, he plans on returning to Oregon.

On Thursday staff with Volunteers of America offered access to services to the individuals living in the camp, and told Chris they could help him obtain a bus pass to Oregon, though Chris remained in the camp. 

The Clean and Safe Team program assistant Jon Bahrenburg said the camp was notified on Monday and Tuesday that the City would be returning to throw trash away. He said he can only throw away items that people clearly stated were trash

If someone was not at their tent, their stuff could not be touched. There were about a dozen people living in the camp, but only a handful were present on Thursday morning.

“I wish they had designated more for us to clean up because we have a crew here, we have trucks and we’d be glad to do it, but unfortunately, since some of the people didn’t show up or they left, I can’t touch it,” Bahrenburg said. “[I’m] a little frustrated. I mean, I’d like to clean it up so people don’t have to look at it. It’s just part of life doing this job.”

Bahrenburg showed three staff members with COIT Cleaning and Restoration of Reno which areas trash could be picked up from. The City of Reno contracted COIT for $250,000, for six months, to clean and clear trash from area homeless camps.

City said letting people remain in a camp is rare, owner of property unclear

Jon Humbert with the City of Reno said if someone is connected with services, he considers a clean-up activity a success. 

There are about 100 beds available in the makeshift shelter at the Reno Events Center, which was originally slated to close at the end of June, but remains open with no clear date of closure, Humber said.

Chris said he does not want to stay at the Reno Events Center because people can’t stay there all day. People are let into the facility at 7 p.m. and must leave in the morning.

Others said they don’t stay there either because of the no pet policy, they don’t want to be separated from their partner or they do not trust authority figures.

“If people are unsafe and have legitimate concerns about the way that these operations are handled, whether it is Volunteers of America, our role in it, the faith-based community, if there are concerns about that, we want to hear it because we can reform it,” Humbert said. “Just like this clean up today. It isn’t ‘everybody gets the exact same thing.’ Everybody’s needs are entirely different: couples, having pets, having kids even, we’ve gotta be just as flexible, and that is an area where we need to improve because we don’t want to have a bad faith offer to folks.”

The City of Reno has conducted multiple sweeps over the past month. Typically, people must pack up all of their belongings and relocate. The Reno Police Department recently ticketed about 10 unsheltered individuals for camping near the Truckee River, after not complying with the City’s notice to leave the area.

This time, people did not leave the area, a move Humbert said is rare. 

Bahrenburg with the Clean and Safe Team said the biggest restriction to clearing the camp is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends to avoid breaking up camps where unsheltered individuals are living during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The CDC said doing so can cause people to disperse into the community, and potentially contribute to the spread of the virus, and the action can break connections with service providers.

Additionally, it is unclear who owns the property where the camp is located. Humbert said the City of Reno needed to address the complaints with Reno Direct.

“We felt that because of the traffic along 4th [Street], the safety concerns, the numerous service requests that we get through Reno Direct, this had to be a priority for folks because it is right there,” Humbert said.

There is no defined owner of the little strip of land where the camp is located on the Washoe Regional Mapping System.

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