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Home > Featured > Elected officials say they’ve no connection to ‘Nevada Cares Challenge’

Elected officials say they’ve no connection to ‘Nevada Cares Challenge’

By Jeri Chadwell
Moriah has been living unsheltered since 2016 and recently celebrated her 20th birthday. Image: Eric Marks

Flyer circulating on social media intended as a call to action for local leaders

A flyer featuring the faces of county commissioners, city council members and the mayors of Reno and Sparks started circulating on social media late last week touting the kickoff of the “Nevada Cares Challenge.”

It read, in part, “This is the story of 7 Local Elected Officials picked to live in the new 46K Sq Ft. tent shelter and find out what happens when politicians stop being polite and start getting real!”

A flyer circulating on social media was created by Reno Hearts You as a call to action for local leaders to learn more about issues of homelessness through experiential learning.

The flyer was made by local mutual aid and outreach group Reno Hearts You, which provides food and services to the region’s unsheltered population. In a bid to raise funds for future activities, the group wrote on the flier that people could sponsor their “favorite elected official for $10/a day while they stay in the brand new massive tent shelter at the Governor’s Bowl! OR go all in for $100” with a “top pick for who will go the distance” and stay for a full two weeks at the new Nevada Cares Campus shelter.

The shelter is set to be fully open May 17 at the old Governor’s Bowl off of Fourth Street.

The flyer features photos of Mayor Hillary Schieve, Mayor Ed Lawson, Reno City Council members Oscar Delgado and Neoma Jardon, Sparks City Council Member Kristopher Dahir and Washoe County Commissioners Bob Lucey and Alexis Hill.

“They made this bed now let’s watch them lay in it,” the flyer read.

The three government agencies said in a joint press statement on Monday that they had no connection to the “alleged” Nevada Cares Challenge.

“The flyer circulating on social media, which calls for sponsorships and donations to support individuals experiencing homelessness, is not endorsed by regional leaders and was created without our participation or approval,” the statement read.

“This is not a legitimate event or fundraiser. It is unclear where any of the ‘donations’ will go. Regional law enforcement organizations urge anyone who wishes to donate to worthy causes to be safe.”

The statement urged people who want to volunteer to support the new shelter to contact RegionalHomelessServices@washoecounty.us.

No joke at all, say homeless advocates

The flyer wasn’t really meant to be a fundraiser, though the folks behind Reno Hearts You are happy to receive any donations and will, as always, use money raised to provide food and direct support to unsheltered people. The call to action, on the other hand, was no joke at all, according to Reno Hearts You’s Natalie Handler.

“People experiencing homelessness have real and legitimate anxieties and traumas around staying at emergency shelters. A one-size-fits-all model is not going to meet everyone’s needs,” Handler wrote to This Is Reno. “We find experiential learning to be the best teacher and created the flyer in the hopes that those elected officials who voted in favor of building the massive tent shelter would take the call in to stay overnight with their constituents as an opportunity to show us they care about our most vulnerable community members enough to see with their own eyes what shelter life can be like.”

Handler’s group hoped the experience would provide officials with more perspective and help guide their decision making when planning the second and third phases of the Nevada Cares Campus

Unsheltered individuals had to move their belongings out of Gateway Park during a cleanup by Sparks Police Feb. 17, 2021. Some are reluctant to stay in a shelter and would prefer a safe camp location.
Image: Isaac Hoops / This Is Reno

“We have called on them numerous times to take a people-centered, trauma-informed approach,” Handler said. “We, along with many other community activists, have called on them to create a Lived Experience Advisory Board. We cannot create humane and effective solutions for people without including the voices of those whose lives will be most impacted.”

She said many people have also made public comment and sent emails to elected officials asking that funding be allotted to hire professional social workers and mental health professionals experienced in harm reduction, substance abuse, suicide prevention and mental health disorders to do outreach in support of the unsheltered.

“So far, all these requests have fallen on deaf ears,” Handler said. “Only a couple council members responded but never followed up, and our mayor never bothered to respond. The creation of this flyer was a tactic to get our elected officials to pay attention to their constituents and show us they care!”

Handler said she and other community advocates recognize that there are city and county staff who are “working very hard and care deeply about this work” and that they appreciate it.

“We wish that the $17 million of the CARES act funds would have gone to providing concrete low-income, affordable and low barrier housing options rather than this massive 46,000-square-foot sprung structure shelter,” she said. “The City of Reno and Sparks have already begun to sweep those living without shelter before these shelter beds are available or the sanctioned safe camp is an option.”

Those who want to keep up to date with the outreach and support activities of Reno Hearts You can follow the group on its Instagram page @RenoHeartsYou.

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