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Homeless camp sweeps get contentious, group sets up camp at City Plaza in protest


By Bob Conrad and Jeri Chadwell

Homeless advocates continue their battle against the City of Reno and how it is managing the population of those experiencing homelessness. An online petition was launched in the past week calling for an end to the sweeps and more communication with city officials. 

Sweeps at Commercial Row, near Wells Avenue, in recent weeks have pushed some to set up camp in other areas of town. One location at Mill Street and Edison Way has seen an increase in people, which the city says are illegally camping and trespassing on private property.

About 30-50 people were forced to move from the area today after being given notices last week that the area was going to be cleaned this week.

But that effort prompted a new tent camp — one set up today across from City Hall with protesters demanding an end to the sweeps. The protesters said they will not move until the sweeps stop.

Kailey Barnett and Adam Barrington are co-founders of the mutual aid group People’s Solidarity Program, which they said they formed earlier this year. 

“There’s just been consistent sweeps and sort of a lot of terror inflicted upon the houseless community from the police,” Barrington told This Is Reno. “And the callousness of city council and the reluctance for them to provide any sort of decent housing at the moment led us to come occupy this space because the Edison area—which is the latest large camp—is being swept this morning.”

“I know Devon Reese has said in the past that he’s supportive of mutual aid groups,” Barnett said. “ Naomi Duerr—we’ve been kind of in contact with her, and she was saying she might be able to get us a 30-day halt on the sweeps. But I don’t think those promises are being met because there are bulldozers there right now at Edison.”

As with past sweeps, the dates of when people needed to leave Mill and Edison today were not clear. The city’s notices were not consistent with what was happening today, said one of the advocates at the site during the sweep.

There has also been confusion about available bed space at the newly opened Nevada Cares Campus, which was not set up for single women. Women are meant to go to the Our Place facility at the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services campus, but bed availability is limited there. One space was available last week.

Pat Cashell of Volunteers of America, which operates the homeless shelter, said last week the Cares Campus was also at capacity for women but that “nobody would be turned away.” As of this morning, there was some bed space available for women and couples. 

The Cares Campus, which can shelter up to 900 people, has 512 people and 92 empty beds. Cashell said he is working with Our Place to get women places to stay.

Jon Humbert, City of Reno spokesperson, said Our Place also has motel vouchers for those who cannot stay at either location. 

A homeless camp sweep by the City of Reno near Mill Street and Edison Way on June 2, 2021. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno

One homeless advocate this morning said they were helping people move to new locations in Sparks. 

Officials would like to see an end to camps in town, but the safe camp area of the Cares Campus won’t be open for at least another two weeks.

“They’re not safe for the people living in them, and they’re not safe for the community at large,” said Alex Stettinski with the Downtown Reno Partnership during today’s city council meeting. “Just in the past three months, RPD, the Ambassadors, fire and REMSA Health have received not hundreds but thousands of calls for service—just in that little area behind the ballpark and down the Truckee River corridor. 

“Now, RPD has been working really hard to … connect our houseless community to services, case workers and suitable shelter.”

If the scene at Mill and Edison is any indication, however, getting many of the unsheltered into shelter and engaged with services to get out of homelessness will be a tall order. 

Many struggled to manage their possessions while being forced to get from one place to another.

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