The City of Reno’s Clean and Safe Team has increased clearings of large homeless camps over the last few weeks after Reno City Council cited concerns about environmental contamination and health hazards from encampments along the Truckee River in late September.
The City of Reno’s Clean and Safe Team also entered a new contract with the cleaning service Qual-Econ U.S.A., Inc. for $510,000 for one year, which started Aug. 12. The Clean and Safe Team’s contract ended with COIT Services, according to a spokesperson for the city.
Qual-Econ U.S.A., Inc.’s role includes the removal of trash, debris, waste and personal property from sites designated by the city. Their first major operation was a cleanup along the Truckee River near Kietzke and Kuenzli.
There was a camp of unsheltered individuals staying at the site. They were notified that they would have to leave and offered services, according to the city. A few people remained at the camp early Wednesday morning when the dump trucks came to haul the trash away.
One woman, who uses the alias “Suspect,” was standing with several piles of her belongings. The 28-year-old has been experiencing homelessness for three weeks and has been staying at this spot for the past two weeks.
“There’s a lot of really good people here and they’re all losing a place to go,” Suspect said.
Suspect said she received notice that she would have to leave, but was still there this morning. Reno Police Department officers were also on scene in the morning.
“The cops showed up and just wanted everybody to leave because they just need to clean up the riverwalk from the trash, which is understandable. It’s really bad. It’s gross. Some people just don’t know how to take care of things,” Suspect said.
She said she doesn’t know where she’s going next and will probably find a spot similar to this one, but less populated this time. Suspect said she tried staying in a shelter but had a negative experience after her belongings were stolen.
City said shelter space usually available
Jon Humbert with the City of Reno said not every cleanup activity is to clear homeless camps, though on Wednesdays, the Clean and Safe Team have been conducting cleanups of larger encampments, like the one today.
“The proximity to the river is a danger when it comes to flooding [and] human waste getting into the river can really cause problems because it’s our drinking water and a huge part of the natural beauty of why we all live here,” Humbert said, “It is difficult to ask people to uproot their lives on relatively short notice within a week, or so, but we have options and opportunities for people who want to join programs and different outcomes than living here. There are options, and we just want people to take it up, and that doesn’t often happen.”
There is limited shelter space in Washoe County, and there are not enough beds for every unsheltered person in the county.
“It is definitely a mounting concern,” Humbert said, “If every estimated person who’s unsheltered and living on the street, all come line up, in theory, we would not have the space for them, but as a practical matter, it is incredibly rare that there isn’t at least multiple beds available for folks that night.”
Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse into the community and can potentially increase the spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC.
This Is Reno asked Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick how concerned he was that the cleanups are ramping up.
“I think there’s the potential for that to spread the virus, but I think that, you know, we’re not really in lockdown anymore, and we’re opening up bigger and bigger events. So, I don’t think that the homeless population right now is my biggest concern on where we may be seeing spread,” Dick said.
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.