By Carly Sauvageau
Hours before community members joined religious leaders for a vigil to remember the 54 unhoused people who died in 2021, Reno City Council members approved a contract to increase support for people living homeless.
The 16-month contract between the city’s Clean and Safe Team and Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE) was approved “to support the most vulnerable, service resistant individuals, integrate peer-to-peer engagement, and strengthen connections and trust among the community.”
“We recognize that when we show up in a city vehicle and are in a uniform or even a polo with the city of Reno logo we’re connected to government, the city of Reno,” said Cynthia Esparza with the city manager’s office. “Through this approach our goal is to have someone who is connected to the population, familiar with the resources, can speak the same language and share ‘I was in your shoes’ and build those relationships at a different level that we cannot at this point do ourselves.”
The Clean and Safe Team was created in 2019 to help the city deal with emergency issues around the homeless population – like flooding along the river washing away encampments or having a fire break out where a group of people have sheltered.
“If you’re going to work for the community, you have to work with the community.”
Now, the team is also working to clean up public spaces and provide additional services to the unhoused population. Efforts include coordinating with the Reno Works program to get unhoused people jobs, getting unhoused people contact with their family who could potentially help and improving access to community court.
In 2021, the Clean and Safe Program had more than 1,700 service requests, a 13% decrease from 2020.
The contract with RISE would not only provide the Clean and Safe Team with an outreach advocate to the unhoused community, it would provide RISE with the resources to add five people to their 58-employee payroll.
Mayor Hillary Schieve asked RISE’s executive director, Benjamin Castro, what their group brought to the table.
“The most shelter resistant are likely the most traumatized people in our community,” Castro said. “This community, the folks that we serve, most of the time they’re treated as they’re invisible and the only times they’re not treated as they’re invisible is when they’re reminded they’re not welcome here. So you need people who understand that array of feelings to do that engagement and that motivation.”
Council member Neoma Jardon said she was proud of the city’s progress, but was concerned that the many groups in Reno trying to help the unhoused community would cause conflict.
“I think we’ve made tremendous progress,” Jardon said. “But my concern is this: we have a number of groups that are doing this work in the same or similar vicinity and I think the biggest concern I have…is the coordination and cooperation.”
“If you’re going to work for the community, you have to work with the community,” Castro said.
The council will return in 30 days to discuss collaboration between the Clean and Safe Team and RISE and get progress reports after six months and again at 12 months.
Marijuana policies amended
Council members heard proposals to make two amendments to the city’s cannabis policy.
The first amendment would add licenses for the potential sale of cannabis by two additional dispensaries within the state.
The number of dispensary licenses distributed are determined by the population of a city. Reno was originally given 10 licenses by the state, but in 2018 the council voted to reduce the number to eight.
The second amendment proposed using different terms for the industry. “Marijuana” would be referred to as “cannabis” and “recreational” would change to “adult-use.”
Schieve emphasized the importance of city planning when it comes to the placement of a dispensary, referencing a dispensary that was placed next to a rehab facility which Schieve did not agree with.
The amendments were brought to motion by council member Jenny Brekhus, seconded by Naomi Duerr, and passed unanimously.
New mural to adorn city parking garage
The city’s parking garage, the former Cal-Neva parking garage on First Street between Virginia and Center streets, is getting a new paint job.
A mural by Charly Malpass featuring sagebrush and mountain bluebirds will be finished by May 2022. It will be painted on the side of the garage facing East First Street and curve into the alley facing City Plaza.
Council member Naomi Duerr has been especially proactive in this project, donating $20,000 of city council funds out of the $70,000 needed to complete the project.
Correction: This story was updated to indicate that in 2021 the city received more than 1,700 service requests, which was a 13% decrease in calls, not an increase as originally reported.