Jay recently coordinated a successful clean up event to get trash off the trail by the Truckee River in Sparks where a homeless encampment has grown in recent months. It’s just part of what Jay does during his free time as a self-described “moderate anarchist” who is also technologically savvy, progressively connected and very neighborly.
As the executive clerk of Reno Sparks Neighborhoods, an on and offline project facilitator, which he calls a “grassroots focused technology platform,” Jay helps neighbors improve their neighborhoods. “If someone has a great idea and I know they are going to do it, then I help them create proposals or memes or just discussion within a community of people who actually have the funds or the materials or the actual physical land to do it.”
A Midtown native who returned to the area after working on projects in China, West Africa and post-Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., Jay is also working on building a “neighborhood library” filled with books on the “1,100 micro neighborhoods” which make up the Reno/Sparks region.
Our Town Reno met Jay at the Generator art space in Sparks last week, while he was making bread, to get his views on homelessness along the river, the crunch in affordable housing in areas near service providers, as well as overall gentrification.
Q: What’s happening with the homeless residents along the river, currently near the Reno / Sparks line?
A: There’s been political pressure to relocate homeless people and our politicians have just immediately jumped on the most brutal enforcement they can legally pursue. So they’ve been forcing more and more people away from the river and other sites which have the accommodations and the services which our disadvantaged populations need. Sparks was the last one to actually start those policies. Many people ended up in Sparks. But now Sparks passed a river ordinance similar to Reno’s to move everyone away from the river. They did not include any compassionate language in that at all.
Q: We’ve heard police are repeatedly telling the homeless there to leave. Is the situation tense?
A: Yes, some of the citizens who live near the river in mobile home parks or otherwise use the river for recreation have been complaining to city council (in Sparks) about the conditions down there. So those people have begun arming themselves and I was actually surrounded by a group of six of them after a Sparks city council meeting, threatening the volunteers and church groups who go down there to give out hygiene supplies.
Q: What are you hoping for right now, and is there still hope this particular situation can be solved, hopefully peacefully?
A: I’ve been told that Sparks is going to reach out to Washoe County social services to get people down there and I will back up that plan when they produce it, but it’s so late that the effectiveness of that is just going down and down and down.
Q: What services are available in Sparks in particular for the most disadvantaged, and the Reno/Sparks area in general?
A: Sparks does not provide very many social services. They’ve historically just relied on the bigger Reno neighbor to do that. We currently have 20 beds for the mentally ill in all of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County. The Reno homeless shelter is 120 beds short. The emergency shelter had 200, but it’s gone because of the theft there. I don’t know why they weren’t providing security there. None of these services have adequate staff or resources.
Q: Overall, what should we be doing to address this situation of people who don’t have a legal place to sleep?
A: We need to embrace the Reno tradition of to each his own. There should be places to camp. There should be places to build tiny homes. There should be places to rent an apartment for $300 a month. There should be places to have co-op spaces where you have a shared kitchen and everybody has their private space. A lot of these places were informally in place prior and we have to formalize that to keep it and to get it in the zoning code.
Q: How critical is it right now for our community concerning all these important issues, revolving around gentrification and displacement?
A: Right now, we’re in an incredibly critical moment. We could end up relocating a bunch of people out to our North Valleys and some areas which have zero to no accessibility to employment, grocery stores, transportation, bike paths and we need to be very conscious about how we include everyone to stay in the valley. It’s small enough in Reno/Sparks to actually still make a difference. I think the results are attainable. I want people to have pride in their neighborhoods and agency in their own life, where they don’t rely on their 8 to 5 job and commuting, but they can fix their own problems and rely on their neighbors.