Story and Video by Bob Conrad | Photos by Eric Marks and Ty O’Neil
Homeless advocates continued their so-called occupation of Reno City Plaza today. Some were expecting to get arrested. They had been told by Reno Police officers since Friday to vacate the area by noon today.
The notice handed out by police said the area needed cleaning.
“They told us to go to the Cares Campus and asked us if we needed services,” advocate Lily Baran said, while laughing.
The protesters began camping at the plaza, across from City Hall, last week. They are demanding a meeting with city officials and an end to the scheduled sweeps to clear homeless encampments.
Four Reno Police officers waded into the group of about 60 people at about noon where some have been camping for nearly six days. They initially said little. Things got heated as the group chanted. But people unrelated to the protest came by and began yelling at the gathering, disrupting the group.
Protestors said the police were baiting them, waiting for somebody to get violent.
Baran ultimately got an officer away from the group. She said he agreed to try to communicate their concerns up his chain of command. RPD then left the scene, without cleaning the plaza, while the protesters remained.
The protestors said there is no place for those experiencing homelessness to go, but city officials maintain there are still open beds at the Cares Campus — 54 as of this afternoon, according to a city PR spokesperson — and nobody is being turned away who wants to stay there.
Photos by Ty O’Neil
City of Reno Public Information Officer Jon Humbert continued to defend city actions while also criticizing the activists.
“Something you don’t read on the blogs about homelessness in Reno: We provide *days* of compassionate outreach [and] offers of help before cleanup,” he posted online. “*94 percent* of people say no. By law, cities only have to provide 24-hour notice. We often provide a *week.* And still get told no.”
Advocates, on the other hand, say the Cares Campus is potentially dangerous — it is staffed with about a dozen employees for more than 500 people — and off putting to those who may be experiencing layers of trauma, mental illness and substance addictions. Simply moving them, they said, is a tall order.
Humbert told the advocates to go volunteer.
“Gotta love harassing phone calls from ‘advocates’ for the homeless in Reno,” he tweeted. “Instead of claiming it’s somehow unconstitutional to clean city parks and calling the Cares Campus a ‘FEMA concentration camp,’ maybe put down the phone and volunteer.”
Those at city plaza today said they are volunteering by being there.
Ilya Arbatman, who has been volunteering by attending the sweeps, was at city plaza today. He also spoke during public comment at the Community Homeless Advisory Board meeting held this morning at City Hall.
He said a city employee gave out his personal cell phone number.
“The process is broken and needs desperately to be stopped and re-thought.”
“At around 2 p.m. I received a call from a man named Alan — he told me he is staying by the Wells bridge and he got my number from a city employee who told him that he had to vacate the area and that I could help him move his stuff,” Arbatman wrote in a complaint to city officials. “I asked who exactly gave him my number, and he said it was one of the city employees [from] the Clean and Safe Team.
“I was appalled that they thought it was appropriate to give out my number. I am a volunteer, unaffiliated, unpaid,” he added. “This is a glaring example of what I was trying to articulate this morning at CHAB — if city employees are calling private citizens to help them make sure sweeps happen in a more humane manner, the process is broken and needs desperately to be stopped and re-thought.”
Local business owners are also protesting the sweeps.
“We strongly urge you to discontinue the sweeps that are being levied against our most vulnerable community until, at the very least, the safe camp on the Cares Campus is open,” they wrote today to Mayor Hillary Schieve.
Schieve, reached by phone after the protest this afternoon, said she was willing to talk with the group but said nobody had reached out to her directly other than an email that had been sent to a lot of other people.
She agreed the rollout of the sweeps and the Cares Campus opening could be improved, but with the available beds, the sweeps will likely continue due to the amount of crime and garbage found at the homeless encampments.
A sweep is scheduled for tomorrow morning at John Champion Park.
Photos by Eric Marks
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 from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.