Why would people who can’t afford homes, apartments or motel rooms in the Reno-Sparks area prefer sleeping in tents along the river, on abandoned properties, or near freeways under bridges rather than going to the homeless shelter on Record street even when conditions are harsh? As January is "Poverty in America Awareness Month", Our Town Reno wanted to look into why so many in our area are "aid-resistant", a term sometimes used in the media, by looking closer at the area's government paid-for shelter.
The pictures above, provided anonymously, offer a glimpse into the realities of life at the main shelter. We previously published photos from harsh conditions at the overflow shelter in this article: http://www.ourtownreno.com/our-citizens-forum/2017/1/3/harsh-nights-inside-renos-overflow-homeless-shelter
Access to the main shelter require sign-ups and check-ins early in the day to secure a bed and meal. When the main shelter on Record street is full, people have to wait hours to be bused to a "secret", nearby location, with dirty sheets and mattresses on gravel-filled ground, only to be woken up before five a.m., deposited back on freezing streets.
Dumped Belongings, No Couples, No Pets , Black Markets and Stale Food
At the main shelter, belongings are dumped unceremoniously. Retrieving them means trampling over everyone else’s belongings. Sometimes, belongings go missing. Left behind property is in a pin outside, snowed in. Couples are separated. Pets are not allowed. The food is cold and stale, usually spaghetti plates, which end up mostly uneaten. Some who eat complain of being sick to their stomachs. Meanwhile, a black market goes on with people selling each other’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards they receive for so-called SNAP benefits, an acronym for the current name of food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
TV crews come for special events when special guests do feedings, and then the food is better, everything is cleaned up, but on a day to day basis, the complaints pile up. It’s too militaristic inside the shelter, people who sleep there sometimes say. There are cliques which make them feel uncomfortable. Younger people feel threatened by the older population. Those in tents, under bridges, in condemned properties, say they prefer to stay with their pets, friends, significant others, whatever the elements and the threats of arrest. To deal with these realities, amid a trend of criminalizing homelessness on the West Coast, amid rising inequalities and housing costs, local activists are trying to get a so-called SafeGround instituted, with this petition.
Text from the petition below:
ACTIONN and The Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE) call on our local leaders in Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County to dedicate land to the development of a SafeGround, where houseless residents within our community can live without fear of criminalization, harassment, or eviction and where they could benefit from the protection of our local law enforcement agencies and local services. Ideally, there should be several locations throughout the area that are dedicated SafeGrounds.
This would allow local non-profits and caseworkers easy access to people in need and would serve as a first step towards solving houselessness in Northern Nevada. The less restrictive nature of a SafeGround allows our community to immediately respond to people newly on the street and decrease the resources required by the community. The faster someone is served, the less time they spend without housing. Individuals can be more quickly served if they can be easily found. The current situation makes that difficult because houseless people often hide to avoid eviction and harassment.