Reporting and Photography by Jose Olivares for Our Town Reno
Last month, activists filmed as workers chainsawed brush and trees in close proximity to homeless encampments. A couple of the activists led Our Town Reno to the area where the chainsawing took place.
It is a rainy day in Sparks. Jennifer Cassady and Katie Colling walk alongside the Truckee River as the cloudy skies paint the world in a gray and cold light.
Colling and Cassady walk along the pathway towards a nearby bridge to take refuge from the rain. Cassady spots a bicycle in the river next to more property belonging to one of her homeless friends. Regardless of the cold water, the cold wind and the rushing current, she jumps into the river to fish out the bike and places it at the side of the river under the bridge.
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Cassady is a local activist who also volunteers for the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE). She is involved in local community activism and organizing, especially with homeless individuals in Northern Nevada. Last month, alongside Colling and Jay Kolbet-Clausell, she filmed as workers used chainsaws to clear brush and trees near homeless encampments in Sparks.
The Homeless Camp Site
There is an area in Sparks by the Truckee River, where homeless folks have gathered near brush and trees to help protect them from precipitation and other factors. There are a few tents established and hidden in the brush where a large group of homeless people have clustered together.
According to Cassady, the trees and brush help keep the homeless camp from being exposed to the elements. Last month, however, homeless people felt their protection was threatened and placed in jeopardy by chainsaws, a dump truck, and a front loader.
Above an Our Town Reno compilation by Jose Olivares with activist videos by Jay Kolbet-Clausell.
On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Truckee River Flood Project sent workers to remove brush and some trees near the homeless camp.
According to Jay Aldean, executive director of the Truckee River Flood Project, they were asked by the City of Sparks to remove this brush because they said it was a fire hazard.
“We attempted to do that,” Aldean said. “We put up signs that we didn’t want any trespassing. We notified the people there that they needed to move so we can clean the brush.”
The videos show the logo of Keeler Tree Service on a machine. Keeler Tree Service is a private company.
Activist and Homeless Observers
Cassady, Colling and Kolbet-Clausell were all observing the situation and helping their homeless friends gather their property. The three of them filmed the workers using chainsaws as they got close to the homeless people's property.
Our Town Reno spoke with a couple of homeless individuals living at the camp. We spoke with Bonnie Pace, who we interviewed earlier this year (www.ourtownreno.com/our-stories-1/2016/4/8/bonnie-and-her-cat-displaced-but-together).
"You think a tourist wants to see this?" she asks.
Pace also mentioned the Sparks Police Department has politely approached the camp and offered the homeless people services. Unfortunately, some of the homeless folks living in this area have pets that cannot be taken to shelters with their owner.
"I'm not giving up my cat," Bonnie said. "My cats are like my children!"
The area still has a lot of brush and trees left protecting the camp. According to Aldean, the workers removed between 60 and 80 percent of the brush required by the City of Sparks.
“We negotiated [with the activists and homeless] that we would only cut as much as we cut, and see what the City of Sparks was going to make us do after that brush was cut,” Aldean said. “From that, we can just rest a little bit and see how the negotiations go with the City of Sparks.”
“Like I say, these guys when I spoke with them, they’re very good people, the activists,” Aldean added. “They’re trying to do a job as well.”
Dedicated to Activism
Cassady says she has dedicated her life to community organizing and striving for social change. She is currently in her last semester and is on the road to receive a Master of Arts for Social Change at the California-based Starr King School for the Ministry. As she told Our Town Reno, "The school is bad ass and prepared me to be out there."
"I feel like it's important to give the world back its humanity and the only way to do that is by confronting oppression in every form," she said.
"If I have a dream, it's that the voices that are here are amplified and heard. That their stories are seen as sacred and their humanity is amplified. If I'm amplifying their voice, that's important," she said.
Photos, Video Editing and Reporting by Jose Olivares for Our Town Reno
Special thanks to Jay Kolbet-Clausell for the videos clips.