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Officials: Complaints about homeless camps on decline

By Bob Conrad

Local government officials today said last year’s homeless camp sweeps have led to a decline in complaints about the camps, particularly on the Truckee River. 

Calls for service about homeless concerns peaked in 2020. There were more than 2,000 complaints in 2020 but that number dropped to 1,755 in 2021.

Cynthia Esparza, with the City of Reno, told the Community Homeless Advisory Board today that was due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, the inability of city staff and contractors to respond to calls, camp cleanups and the opening of Nevada Cares Campus.

“We continue to see a rise in the summertime [and a] decrease in the winter,” she said. “The vast majority of concerns are homeless concerns. That could mean an encampment in a public area, a sidewalk or an observation from a resident.”

The city collected 10,000 cubic yards of waste last year from 229 cleanups. Esparza said many of the areas cleaned are still now free of debris. 

“The amount of waste collected would cover Mackay Stadium at 5-feet, 6-inches tall,” she said. 

A dumpster of trash overflowed near a homeless camp in downtown Reno. Image: Eric Marks
A dumpster of trash overflowed near a homeless camp during a cleanup June 3, 2020 in downtown Reno, Nev. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

Esparza said some of those experiencing homelessness are “service resistant” – meaning, they do not want government help and will not go to Cares Campus or other shelters. 

Of the thousands of contacts with those experiencing homelessness by city staff and Reno Police community officers, 55 housing arrangements were made in 2021. Of the 55, 28 went to the county’s safe camp area of the Nevada Cares Campus. 

The city began razing homeless encampments last year before the Cares Campus opened. Those along the river were drawing hundreds of citizen complaints, Esparza said.

Reno Councilmember Neoma Jardon said the river improvements are notable.

“It looks like we’re trending in the right direction,” she said. 

RV complaints on the rise

Officials from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and Sparks Police Department said abandoned and hazardous RVs are causing environmental contamination and drawing complaints from citizens.

“The biggest hazard that we’re seeing is a lot of these RVs are broken down and they’re old,” said Lt. Chris Rowe with Sparks Police. “Their sewage holding tanks aren’t really holding anymore, and what we’re seeing is that here’s black and gray water that is leaking onto city streets. Additionally, they’re parking in areas that are restricting view for traffic which is causing traffic concerns and potential traffic accidents.”

Lt. Anthony Maselli with the sheriff’s office said they’re seeing the same problem in unincorporated Washoe County. 

Maselli said the county does not have an illegal camping ordinance, something he said they would pursue, as well as a streamlined process for towing abandoned RVs and trailers.

“Large encampments can allow for an unsafe balance in our community due to large accumulations of rubbish and debris, unsanitary conditions, drug paraphernalia, and calls for service…” he added. 

The City of Reno is seeing similar problems. City officials said there were 113 RVs towed last year.

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

Cashell leaves VOA

Pat Cashell of the Volunteers of America said he is leaving the organization after more than a decade operating homeless shelters. He did not say where he was going.

“It’s been 10 years now since I took over at VOA and operating the shelters, and it’s been the best 10 years of my life,” he said. “At the end of March, I’ll be starting a new chapter in my life again.”

He said his experience was an amazing journey working with the local governments, service organizations and “even the homeless advocates. It’s been a blessing. We’re making a difference.”

He thanked the homeless advisory board members.

“The trust that you showed me is unbelievable,” he said.

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