Roscoe Roper has saved seven people’s lives since becoming an ambassador for the Downtown Reno Partnership, a feat he has been recognized for with a special award from REMSA.
He’s offered CPR and successfully resuscitated several homeless inhabitants who were unresponsive while completing morning well-checks. It’s all in a day’s work for Ropert who patrols the fourth zone of Downtown Reno (the area that includes the RTC bus station near 4th Street).
He’s not a paramedic or a first responder (at least not technically); he’s an ambassador, an outreach-style program that helps keep Downtown Reno (and its inhabitants) safe.
“This is real personal for me,” Roper says. “Drugs have taken so much from me my whole life.”
Before Roper was making a living saving other people’s lives, he was actively trying to save his own. He’s the first to admit he had a hard childhood. He grew up in Oklahoma. His mom had a serious drug addiction. She was in and out of jail before she died; Roper’s brother is still in jail. For a time, he was taken from his mother and placed with his grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s.
He was smoking pot and stealing crank by 12 years old. He was an intravenous drug user at 15. After his mother died, while his wife Jessica was pregnant with their first child, Roper went on a bender. She fled to Reno where she had family and Roper eventually followed.
Despite getting away from Oklahoma, Roper still struggled, and when his son was 2, CPS took him away because Roper got caught driving with stolen license plates. With a pregnant wife again, Roper knew they had to get Max, now 5, back before she was born, or his daughter, Piper, now 3, would end up in custody, too.
“I’m here to be a dad,” he said. “The only thing that could pull me out of that hole was new life.”
March 2 marked two years of sobriety for Roper. And Jessica has gotten sober, too. For more than 15 months, he’s been working as an ambassador with DRP, helping others facing hard times, and he’s really good at it. In addition to his REMSA award, Roper has also been named both Ambassador of the Year and Employee of the Month (twice).
“I like doing this because I like giving back and I feel like you have to kind of come from the background to be able to talk to these people,” he said, adding the homeless who live in zone four (often described as the least desirable zone to patrol) have a respect for him.
Technically Roper’s job is to create a safe and clean environment throughout the BID in his assigned area often acting as a last call for business owners before contacting police and keeping the area clean. The DRP has a dedicated cleaning team that runs the pressure wash truck and cleans and removes graffiti as well as ambassadors who connect those in need to services such as the Cares Campus, the DMV, social services and more.
The Ambassadors, who wear official uniforms and DRP badges, also assist with tourist traffic, answering questions and giving directions. Overall, it makes the area feel safer for both tourists and locals.
Roper is one of 25 ambassadors working for DRP. Between February 2022 and February 2023, the organization has handled 3,600 hotline calls and completed 23,000 business, property and residential check-ins.
More than 16,800 pounds of trash and 1,500 encampments have been removed from downtown and 650 shopping carts were recovered. To beautify the area, 3,500 pressure washes were completed.
The group has also provided 4,800 individual referrals for service, completed 1,946 wellness checks and provided 575 van rides to places such as the DMV, social security office, doctor’s appointments and more.
Currently hours are between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. In summer, they extend to 10 p.m. However, DRP is working to add a graveyard shift to assist with situations that occur overnight.
“The main goal of the Ambassador program is to provide a safe and clean downtown Reno,” says Neoma Jardon, executive director for DRP. “In addition to picking up trash, removing shopping carts, removing graffiti, pressure washing sidewalks and engaging with residents, business owners and businesses, they also work to connect people to services such as the Cares Campus, Our Place, Social Security and the DMV. The Ambassador team regularly works with Reno Police, Reno Fire, REMSA and the City of Reno Code Enforcement to maintain the district.”
The 110-block downtown area patrolled by ambassadors has seen “dramatic improvements” since its inception in late 2018, according to Jardon. The area is cleaner, safer and more vibrant. Between DRP programs, collaboration with downtown resources and the opening of the Nevada CARES campus, unsheltered homeless rates have gone down by 21%. There has also been a 50% reduction in nuisance crime, according to Reno Police Department, and property values have risen 30.2%.
Danielle Ross, another DRP ambassador, works on the outreach side. She has been in the position since January 2021.
Ross says it’s her people skills that make her a prime candidate for working outreach, helping those who are interested get into programs, get into housing and get sober. She has personally escorted people to doctor’s appointments and into facilities for treatment evaluations.
She, like Roper, has her own troubled background. Addicted to drugs, a mother of four and in an abusive relationship in Southern California, she ended up in Reno because she had family here. Ross, however, first started getting help during the pandemic and rules were always changing. Eventually the programs she was reliant on ceased operation, and she found herself unemployed and about to get kicked out of the domestic violence shelter she was in with nowhere else to go.
Her story is one people may be familiar with since she contacted media outlets and eventually worked with Mayor Hillary Schieve to get housing and a job. In the end, she got her and her kids into a safe place. Today, she owns her own apartment and she’s looking forward to getting into a house in the next year.
“It’s very individual on how you work with people,” Ross says, adding ambassadors don’t use a script to allow for more organic interaction. “I think I’ve always had a little bit more patience with people.”
Ross also says that since her addiction days were in California, she’s not triggered by her interactions on the street. Others who are working with people they used to get high with, may struggle more. She credits her strong recovery base with her ability to do the work. She credits her coworkers and the people she gets to help with why she’s stayed at DRP.
Instead of working a dedicated zone like hospitality, outreach ambassadors go where there is a need. She gets calls on her radio when a person won’t move and is trespassing on private property (perhaps from the front door of a business). She provides individualized care, assists with transportation logistics and attends appointments when she thinks it will help.
While she works with DRP, Ross is also focused on taking classes and creating a better life for her and her kids. She doesn’t want to leave DRP but does say she’ll need to find growth opportunities eventually.
For David Papaleo, his work as an outreach ambassador is even more personal because he was homeless on the same streets he patrols today. It all happened after a monumental relapse, one that came 10.5 years after he had found sobriety.
“They always tried to help me,” Papaleo said of DRP. They called the paramedics when he needed medical attention, they encouraged him to get help for his addiction. In the end, they offered him a job if he sobered up.
A looming jail sentence sent Papaleo running toward rehab; there was an unspoken understanding that if he didn’t enter a program, he would serve time for his ten open container violations. So, he entered Crossroads and several months in, he attended a job fair.
“I know a lot of them out there,” Papaleo says. “I try to be a good example.”
While a similar background is a common thread between ambassadors, it’s not a requirement, and, according to Jardon, what DRP looks for most is individuals who are hardworking and compassionate. “Many of their interactions with those who need services require a compassionate and knowledgeable person to connect that person with the assistance they need,” she said.
“We regularly hear from the ambassadors that they truly enjoy this job and their work,” Jardon said. “The ambassador team is an integral part of the BID and Downtown Reno.”
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