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Public commenters rail at city over homeless camp sweeps


Five people protesting at City Plaza were cited this week by the Reno Police Department for being in a city park after hours.

That occurred early Tuesday morning, the day after police waded into a group of activists, without saying anything, as protestors were chanting and expecting to get arrested. The activists said the early morning citations appeared to have been done in order to avoid media and public scrutiny.

They said they secured a meeting with Mayor Hillary Schieve for later this week to discuss their concerns.

They were not swayed by the citations and were back speaking up again Wednesday during the Reno City Council meeting. 

Dozens came to council chambers pleading with council members and Mayor Hillary Schieve to intervene in the ongoing homeless camp sweeps.

“We’re in a crisis point here in Reno,” said Rev. Karen Foster with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. “The police sweeps to remove our houseless neighbors must stop. They require our compassion.” 

Foster also said the Cares Campus “is a warehousing method. We must work together on many creative solutions. The sweeps are not the answer.”

Her message was echoed by dozens of public commenters, but a few people spoke in favor of the sweeps.

Alex Stettinski, executive director for the Downtown Reno Partnership

Downtown Reno Partnership head Alex Stettinski said most downtown businesses are in support of the sweeps but are afraid to speak out in fear of what he called retaliation and bullying by homeless advocates. 

“The vast majority is supporting what you guys are doing [to clean up Reno],” he said. “The reason they’re not coming here and making their comments, and that is of great concern, is because they’re afraid of the consequences. 

“They’re afraid to be harassed, to be dragged through the mud, boycotted and even vandalized because they express an opinion that’s not inline with other groups in the community.”

Stettinski was followed by a public commenter who said, “good.”

“If the business community is afraid to speak up, I say ‘good,’” Adam Barrington said. “The business class has spoken through government for long enough. It’s the people’s time to speak. Be afraid, be very afraid.”

Public commenters repeatedly said they wanted to see more compassion and empathy.

Police needed because of crime

Reno Police Chief Jason Soto Wednesday said there have been more than 1,000 calls for service, both police and fire, at homeless encampments. 

“Since these cleanups have begun on May 17 … during all of that enforcement and resources and assistance that we gave, we made four arrests — three of those arrests were for warrants,” he said. “The reason that that number is so extremely low is because of the compassion that this council has and the direction that we’ve been given as the Reno Police Department in terms of how to find these individuals resources. We have changed our approach.”

Soto said RPD in 2020 received 1,625 calls for service from people requesting help with people experiencing homelessness. 

Advocates for the homeless and law enforcement officers were among those at the Community Homelessness Advisory Board (CHAB) meeting on June 7, 2021. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno

“All of those calls for service required a response from … at least once officer,” he said. 

Those calls do not include those to the previous homeless shelter, the Community Assistance Center, which Soto said was the largest source of calls for more than a decade. Including the CAC, the calls for service top 4,000 a year.

Records obtained by This Is Reno show that trend is continuing at the Nevada Cares Campus, which opened in May. Dozens of calls have been made to the area, primarily for medical services but also for assault, theft and potential trespass.

“We respond there every day, all day long,” Soto said of the CAC. “It’s a huge concern to our public, our businesses and to our neighborhoods. We are working through this as efficiently as we can, in the most fair and effective way.”

City officials have repeatedly stressed the encampments are riddled with crime, and those living there mostly refuse services.

On Wednesday, another person at a sweep at John Champion Park was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and camping in a park.

“On June 9th, 2021 at around 2:15 p.m. a civilian City employee working with the City of Reno’s Clean and Safe program was conducting outreach in the area of John Champion Park,” said Lieutenant Ryan Connelly with RPD. “The City worker was attempting to connect several houseless individuals with resources and assistance when he was threatened and attacked by an individual camping inside of the park. 

“The suspect … charged at the outreach worker wielding a metal pipe and an approximately two foot long machete. The outreach worker fled the scene as the suspect continued to chase him and strike at him with the machete.”

The attack prompted more officers on the scene, including RPD’s Critical Incident Negotiating Team members. They contacted the suspect who surrendered after a one-hour negotiation. 

The assailant was referred to community court.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
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.