Reno Police officers today told homeless advocates, who are protesting the city’s ongoing sweeps of homeless encampments, they have until noon Monday to get their tents off the grass at the corner of First and Virginia Streets.
Violation notices, indicating the area needed to be cleared for cleaning, were handed out early this evening to those who have set up tents on the northwest corner of City Plaza. About a dozen people were there today, many holding signs calling for an end to sweeps and an increase in more affordable housing.
When asked what needed cleaning at the site prompting the notices, city officials said instead the notices were meant to inform the activists that camping in any city park is a violation of Reno codes.
“It was a notice that stated, ‘Camping on public property within 350 feet of the Truckee River is prohibited by Reno Municipal Code 8.12.030. Camping in any City park is prohibited by Reno Municipal Code 8.23.090,’” said city spokesperson Matt Brown. “The Reno City Plaza is considered a public park.”
While the notice says that, it’s the last paragraph on a notice that otherwise indicates it is because the property needs cleaning and maintenance.
City accused of misinformation
Advocates at City Plaza today said the notice was another example of misleading information from the City of Reno.
Notices given to those experiencing homelessness have not been met in terms of dates documenting when the sweeps would occur. Even information on the day of sweeps has changed while the sweeps are occurring.
“It’s very confusing,” said Meagan O’Farrell, who was at City Plaza protesting this evening. “[The notices the city has been handing out] have numeral dates on them, but the days of the week do not match it. They’ll say the sweep is happening on Monday, but then it doesn’t happen until Thursday, so there’s a lot of miscommunication and misinformation about when things are actually happening…”
The City defended the notices. A city spokesperson said they are a goodwill gesture to those who are damaging public property.
“These notices actually go far beyond legal requirements. In this case, this is a full weekend for people to vacate an area for maintenance,” City of Reno Public Information Officer Jon Humbert said. “This is an area where people are not allowed to camp in the first place. Some notices aren’t needed at all, yet we provide them as a goodwill gesture to those who continually violate city code and willfully damage public property.”
Sweep scheduled for June 8
An online petition calling for a stop to the camp sweeps, advocates said, has so far been ignored by city and county officials. The petition calls for an end to the sweeps until the safe camp area of the Nevada Cares Campus opens.
Grant Denton with the Karma Box project told This Is Reno today it is scheduled to open June 17.
City of Reno spokespeople did not respond to why city leaders have not responded to the advocates, and instead said they would continue the sweeps.
“We anticipate that the next cleanup will be in Zone 5 (John Champion Park to Kietzke Lane Bridge),” Brown said. “This zone was noticed on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, and is scheduled to be cleaned on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.”
Business owners and local leaders want the sweeps to continue, citing numerous calls for police and fire services, crime, garbage and vandalism.
“The Nevada Cares Campus is the region’s new shelter. It provides case management services and opportunities to sleep, eat, rest, and shower for men, women, and couples,” Brown said. “It also provides space for pets.
“Since opening on May 17, 2021, the daily number of individuals served has increased to 531. All who seek shelter at NCC are allowed to stay. It is a ‘low barrier’ shelter. No one is turned away.”
Advocates say they’re being ignored, iced out of community conversations
Reno, Sparks and Washoe County today sent a press release saying the local governments are committed to “ensuring the well-being of all citizens in the region.”
The joint statement to the media advocated for the Cares Campus, which in the short time it’s been open, has 531 people being served daily. Space is available, even for pets, and nobody will be turned away.
“This is just the beginning of a long-term strategy rooted in permanent solutions, aligned with the region’s Built for Zero initiative,” the statement read. “This region is full of kind, caring, and helpful people and organizations. We encourage your continued legal efforts to assist our unsheltered populations.”
Local advocates, who say they are doing “direct action,” have been attending the Built For Zero meetings to ask questions and provide input into solutions.
O’Farrell is one of those people.
But she was recently told by Washoe County officials that her, and her colleagues, would no longer be invited to the meetings.
“They do know we do direct action work, and though we disagree in a lot of ways with the things that are happening … our goal is to get people into shelter … in the ways that they need,” she said. “I think taking folks out of the fold … is going to make things challenging. It’s in everyone’s best interest for all of us to stay in communication and for us to get timely information …”
A Washoe County spokesperson said the group is being reduced in size because it has grown and become unwieldy.
“Over time, more people were added to the meeting, and it got too big to function,” said Bethany Drysdale, county public information officer. “There is also the need to share some personal identifying information about the people they’re helping, and maintaining the confidentiality of these people became an issue in such a large group.”
She could not say who else was being removed from the group, which comprises law enforcement personnel, nonprofits and government officials.
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 research appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.