There have been two weeks of silence after homeless advocates packed up their tents and left City Plaza. They had been protesting the City of Reno’s handling of its homeless population after the opening of the Nevada Cares Campus in May.
Five protesters were cited for occupying a city park after hours and now face a court hearing in July. The advocates camped at City Plaza for days demanding more humane approaches to homeless camp sweeps. They were confronted by Reno Police officers who offered them homeless resource services and told them to camp at the Cares Campus instead.
But the protest led to a conversation with city officials, something the city had, prior to the protest, been reluctant to hold.
Those conversations apparently did not go well. Advocates said they wanted the sweeps halted, but they were informed Monday by the city’s Cynthia Esparza the sweeps would be continuing.
“Individuals will have 7 days to vacate these zones as cleans ups [sic] will commence on Tuesday, June 29,” Esparza wrote in an email. “This week, we will continue outreach and additional outreach assistance from your network would be greatly appreciated.”
“No one should ever have to witness their home and belongings razed to the ground.”
Ilya Arbatman has been working with a coalition advocating for what they call a more humane approach toward managing those experiencing homelessness in the greater Reno area.
“We have spoken at length about the need for options — choices — for our unsheltered neighbors,” he said. “Some are in the works. In the meantime, coercing people into Cares [Campus] like they are cattle is not helping.”
Arbatman said a small group met with Reno City Manager Doug Thornley and assistant city managers Jackie Bryant and J.W. Hodges. He said they met, initially with Mayor Hillary Schieve, who left after about an hour, June 10 “at which point a ‘pause’ to the sweeps was agreed upon to last two weeks,” Arbatman added.
Also during the meeting, Bryant told the group not to speak with the news media, particularly This Is Reno.
Arbatman said Bryant agreed to set up porta potties, hand-washing stations and dumpsters near the remaining areas the city is going to clean. He said Bryant later rejected the suggestions.
“We requested during our meeting that bulldozers are never again deployed while people are still present — this request, rooted in the very basic idea I think we can all agree on that no one should ever have to witness their home and belongings razed to the ground, was met with a non-response that I took as a flat, inhumane ‘no,’” Arbatman added.
Bryant did not respond to messages.
Homeless advocate Natalie Handler said she personally rode her bike down the Truckee River path to determine where resources would be needed.
“We’re having to do all this work for them,” she said about trying to work with the city. “They have a whole staff. I’m taking time out of my job to do what they should be doing.”
Handler today posted online the need for the city to stop the sweeps, again, and instead establish cooling centers as the region experiences 100-degree-plus temperatures.
City Manager Doug Thornley said the meetings were productive and the city is committed to having future meetings with the homeless advocates. The Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality is developing a plan. Thornley said not all of what was requested by the advocates was possible, but they are committed to working with them.
The city has maintained the sweeps as necessary due to criminal activity, excessive garbage and environmental hazards at encampments. Reno’s fire and police chief said the encampments draw excessive calls for service.
The Nevada Cares Campus has available beds, which gives the city legal grounds to prevent people from sleeping outside.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comment from Thornley.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.