“Cocaine gets people warm, crystal gets people sleepy and weed mellows their whole body down in the cold,” a part-time drug dealer, part-time user, early twentysomething explains on a cold evening recently in downtown Reno.
'Streets Are Not Good For You'
“There’s teenagers out there, looking like 40-year-olds,” he says. “You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself,” he goes on as he says he is trying to figure out how to get a job, stable housing and put a life on the streets behind him. “Streets are not good for you,” he says.
“What happens on Fourth street, stays on Fourth street,” another young man says, his eyes shifting around. “Go to 4th and Lake. There are bums, drug dealers, gangsters and pimps. There are lots of fights all the time. People beating each up over petty drama.”
Fears of Police, Pimps, Shelters and Relatives
He says he fears the police even more though. He says they once accused him of something he wasn’t involved with, forced him to sit down, and when he went to reach for his ID, pulled guns into his face.
A young woman says pimps will sometimes ask her if she wants to work for them. “I see you on the streets a lot,” they tell her. “Stay safe,” they say, when she says she isn’t interested.
A young man, who has been sneaking onto a couch at a retirement home, says he got kicked out of his own home when he was a teenager, but even when he turned 18, he still avoided shelters. He says he checked it out but didn’t feel safe: “Too many sketchy people, people with knives, I didn’t feel comfortable staying there,” he says. Relatives he was trying to avoid also stayed at the shelter, making it even worse for him.
Using drugs to deal with the bitter cold of dangerous nights, solicited by pimps, humiliated by cops, scared away from homeless shelters, and avoiding troublesome relatives are some of the recurring realities faced by youths living on the streets of Reno.
A Need for a Youth Shelter
In a series of anonymous interviews conducted by the Our Town Reno team, youths living in uncertain, precarious situations on the streets of Reno and Sparks agreed unanimously the area needs more services for their population, including a shelter just for them, more places like the Salvation Army and 24/7 emergency services.
One young woman said she had to run away from her home because her mother was stealing from her. She said she had no one left to trust and became suicidal.
Most said adults in their families were being abusive, leaving them no option than living outside, sometimes teaming up to pay for motel rooms, or going from a friend’s couch to another person’s carpet floor, abandoned property to vacant shop, empty warehouse to secret, hidden spot by the river. Some are escaping bad situations in Las Vegas or California, and feel a little safer in Reno than in bigger cities.
Nights Without Sleep and a Cocktail of Drugs
Many said they just stay up at night and sleep during the day. Crystal meth also called 'clear', acid, heroin, known as H, or sometimes combined with crack and PCP, also known as black, marijuana, and all sorts of pills are all prevalent, and easy to access, to use or sell.
Those interviewed say those who sell typically do so to older people, to make more of a profit. Marijuana is the biggest seller to youths, going at about 30 dollars for an eighth of an ounce. But usually quantities sold are much smaller. Heroin is much more devastating in terms of its effects, they agreed.
For those who are able to get back to school, they say free food programs are extremely beneficial. Some not in school say they can go several days without eating from time to time, and dull their hunger with small quantities of drugs they share.
They also all agreed there aren’t enough places or accessible programs to guide them, to nudge them back to a better path, to help them feel secure in a world which has dealt them a difficult hand, especially in the middle of the night, when they are often lonely and afraid.