Along the Truckee River near the Sparks/Reno Line, July 4, 2016
Visiting Friends on Independence Day
It’s July 4th, 2016, and Kenneth Norton, better known as “Fuzz”, is visiting homeless friends living in tents and sleeping bags along the Truckee River bank opposite the Grand Sierra Resort, making sure everyone is ok on Independence Day. For these area residents permanently living in the outdoors, though, the long weekend did not get off to a good start.
Calling Police 'Help' Into Question
Last Friday, one day after media in Reno released glowing reports about Sparks and Reno police doing outreach here coinciding with the opening of a new overflow shelter, he says many received citations for illegal camping. Most, he says, ripped up the citations, even though they are due to appear in court later this month.
“They started ticketing us for being out here, for being around the river, for camping, for being homeless. They are telling us to move on out of town.”
Staying Away from Shelters, But Having to Deal with Police
Norton, like most others here, doesn’t want to stay in a shelter, where pets, like the two dogs he has as companions, aren’t allowed. He also say the shelters are dirty with lots of stealing going on.
Despite the recent media reports, Norton says police haven’t been friendly at all.
“They’ve been harassing us really early in the morning, often before five in the morning, honking their horns. They don’t come out to check if we are ok. They just want us to leave.”
Norton has been living here over a year, and he says there have been several unpleasant interactions with police.
“If we don’t fit in their society and their standards, we’re nothing to them, we’re just considered pests. Last year, two police officers started ripping up tents one morning, until someone said something and we asked for their sergeant’s badge number. They didn’t give it to us. They just left.”
Out of Prison, Into the Wild
Norton says he makes some money recycling cans, but since being released from a more than six-year prison stint in 2006, and losing access to his children, this is the lifestyle he prefers. Several times a month, he will pool resources with other friends here to get a motel room, take showers and clean up before returning to the river's bank.
In addition to police, Norton says there’s also a “homeless vigilante” from the nearby trailer park, who once shot his brother, wounding him seriously, and who keeps waking people up with a gun in their face telling them to get off the river.
Fuzz also feels scorn from people who aren’t homeless walking down the river path.
“People from the quote unquote normal society, they’ve got jobs, they ride their bikes up and down the path. Everybody’s polite to them, but it seems they just don’t like the sight of us.”
What’s his message to police and local politicians?
“Leave us alone out here. We’re not doing anything wrong. Sometimes there’s a fight. Someone will get drunk and fight. But we’re not killing each other out here.”
What about a message for regular citizens on this 4th of July?
“Say hi instead of ‘oh gosh’ or say ‘how are you doing today?’ That’s about it. We’re misfits but we’re not bad people. Some of us bite but not all of us.”
Interview and pictures for Our Town Reno, July 4, 2016