By Jeri Chadwell | Video by Bob Conrad
The Nevada Cares Campus off Fourth Street by the Governor’s Bowl in Reno is expected to open with room for 900 unsheltered people living in the region beginning May 10. City officials have stressed that the new space will be open to anyone seeking it.
In the meantime, the City of Reno is preparing to resume homeless camp sweeps.
Unsheltered people—about 250 of whom are living along the Truckee River corridor—will once again be forced to move from the sprawling camps they’ve set up, largely on narrow tracts of land banded by the river to the south and train tracks to the north.
“On May 10 and leading up to it, we’re going to have notifications to let people know that some of our cleanup operations will be coming,” said city spokesperson Jon Humbert. “Our goal for that is to have the Cares Campus open and available to take folks. That transition is going to be starting on the 10th so that people who are currently in the shelter system can come over, find a new home, find a larger home at the Cares Campus. And then we’ll be beginning our operations.”
A 10-week plan to conduct sweeps of camps across 11 designated “zones” along the Truckee River corridor was announced last Friday.
“We have broken up the area along the river into a zone format … and so those operations are going to begin at the middle of the month,” Humbert said. “And we’re going to, essentially, work our way west to east—primarily along the river and areas here like Commercial Row.”
To prepare for this, the City of Reno and its Safe and Clean Team are providing people with notice of their intention to possibly bring in heavy equipment and crews to clean up camps.
They, along with community partners like the nonprofit Karma Box Project, are also offering resources to the people living within them.
Outreach done ahead of sweeps
City officials and members of the Clean and Safe Team joined representatives of the Karma Box Project on Tuesday afternoon at the camp that extends beneath the Wells Avenue Bridge off of Commercial Row to provide members of the media with an example of the type of outreach that is being done with unsheltered people ahead of the Cares Campus opening and sweeps.
It may be several weeks before that particular camp is disassembled and its residents are referred to the Cares Campus and other resources like Northern Nevada HOPES’ new transitional living facility, Hope Springs. Humbert said the “goal is the end of the month” for the city, given its current timetable.
He was joined Tuesday by Antonio Gilmore to show reporters around the area.
Gilmore is program assistant to the Reno city manager’s office and a member of the Clean and Safe Team.
“What we do is we try to keep the parks and the river clear … so the community can enjoy the resources that are there,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore has been doing this work for three years. He started with the Volunteers of America nonprofit, which runs local shelters and will oversee the Cares Campus. He then transitioned to his role with the city.
Gilmore said the goal of the Clean and Safe team is to connect unsheltered people with local resources for addiction treatment and shelter.
“We have a lot of applications for places around town that work with people with no income, and so we’re going to be trying to apply for them, to basically help them get into these places,” Gilmore said. “There’s also a place called Hope Springs that has intakes on Wednesdays at 8 o’clock, so we’re going to try to gather a couple of people we can take so they can do the intake process.”
Hope Springs is a transitional living facility spearheaded by local non-profit community health center Northern Nevada HOPES. Gilmore said many people currently living on the streets are unfamiliar with it and other resources.
“A lot of them don’t know about it,” he said. “A lot of the people out here need to have their hands held, to be honest with you. I’m here to do that. That’s what we’re doing. We’re here to help them throughout the entire process—whether it be getting your ID, your social security card. That’s what we’re doing.”
Richard Joyce was among the people at the camp on Tuesday afternoon and said he’d received support from Gilmore and the Karma Box team.
They helped Joyce, who said he’s an out-of-work electrical engineer, get his ID.
“I have tears in my eyes because I just got my ID,” Joyce said. “I’ve been trying to get it since December—and now I can go to work.”
Joyce said he’s “lost everything to COVID” and has been trying to get a job but been thwarted in his attempts by potential employers’ requirement of an official ID.
“I couldn’t even go to Burger King. I’m an electrical engineer. Nobody could hire me without ID—and when you have nothing, nothing, to come up from, zero, it’s so difficult,” he said. “It’s so difficult. I feel for all of these people out here. I know there’s a lot of mental health issues, and drug issues. But if somebody wants to really get out of here, they’ll be able to, you know? There’s people willing to give a hand up.”
Joyce said he’s pledged 10% from the first paycheck he pulls down to the Karma Box Project.
Safe camp still to come
Some like Joyce have said the help already provided by the Clean and Safe Team and others has been sufficient. For others, it’s not clear. While the Nevada Cares Campus will be opening in the next few weeks, people will not have a choice for a safe camping spot there, at least not initially.
“So, what we have for the Cares Campus is a phased approach,” Humbert said. “This is phase one, where we have people who are existing in the current shelter system can come and have a guaranteed spot. People who show up will have an open spot ready to go. Couples can be together essentially for the first time. Pets can be involved. The evolution of things to what’s called a ‘safe camp’ is going to be down the road for phase two and phase three.”
The Washoe County Board of Commissioners at its April 27 meeting was set to vote on a contract for Karma Box Project to manage the campus’ safe camp area, but the item was removed from the agenda without discussion.
While the space for couples and people with pets is expected to bring more unsheltered individuals in, the lack of safe camping space may pose a barrier to some would-be residents of the shelter. However, officials have said adding a safe camping spot for those who don’t want to live within the shelter is the plan in the months to come.
“The topic has been controversial over the past—and regionally, whether it’s the county, Sparks, us or others—we’ve made the combined decision that we want to look at the safe camp option,” Humbert said. “It hasn’t always been popular, but we feel that we want to give every single person who’s living on the street right now an opportunity to find a way out of that life. And if that is something they’re more comfortable with than a shelter situation with a loved one, or they need to have their Doberman puppy with them, we want to have that opportunity for them.”