“I direct traffic,” Elvira Diaz says of her Tuesdays at Change Point. “It’s never the same. It’s always different. It’s intense.” Diaz helps with the Northern Nevada Hopes syringe services program as part of outreach work she does for the University of Nevada, Reno.
Relating to Other Struggles
As an immigrant from Mexico, who has faced lots of discrimination since coming to the United States and lost everything in the recession when her community bakery in Carson City went under, Diaz can relate to those in our community struggling every day.
“Change Point is also for free HIV and Hepatitis C testing, but people also come for donuts or coffee, a place to crash for a few hours, a place to look for coats when it’s cold or just to talk and figure things out,” she says. The Change Point website says it is Nevada’s first legal syringe services program while also offering harm reduction supplies and counseling. “It embraces diversity and advocates for medically underserved groups in the community,” the website reads.
Diaz, an all-around activist for progressive causes, who wears many hats, and fights many battles, has been helping the downtown community health center for several years in different capacities, from fundraising, to reaching out to the Latino community.
A Caring Reno with Risks
She says Reno is a place which attracts people going through tough times, because of its small size and the services offered, but that this also entails risks.
“Reno is transitional for many people,” she says. “I used to travel by bus around town. I like to see people and interact with them. When you are in the car, you don’t see anyone. I also didn’t want to use my own gas. Anyway, I think this little town has a lot of transitional people, with the bus station, the train station, they stop over and see what’s here. We have food kitchens which give food every day. As humans we do a good job, so that brings people in. But some people also (prey) on new arrivals by offering them drugs, prostitution."
More and More Homeless Latinos
She is also worried that homelessness is starting to creep into the local Latino community, where it was previously unheard of.
“We’ve only just started seeing homeless Latinos,” she says. “When people are lonely and desperate, they go into casinos, they go into things. If you don’t have a support system, you can get into big trouble. I know a lot of Latinos now who are HIV positive, and what they need to do is they need to become more Americanized to survive. You need to take your medicines all the time. Or for transgender Latinos, they cannot be so open usually, because culturally it’s different."
"A lot of Latinos also fall prey to multi-level business scams, and lose money that way," Diaz says. "They bring good speakers and it’s also a social network so they like it, and they sell you the dream of money, but I’ve never seen anyone succeed at that in Reno.”
Worse and Worse for the Undocumented
She says she feels for Latinos who are undocumented, it is getting much worse currently.
“If you are undocumented and they are doing the e-verify (the Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States),you cannot work anymore. You are stuck, and you become homeless and you are afraid of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and you are afraid of jail. Our community initially came here to work, but now it’s different. Some are fleeing terrible situations.”
Fighting for the Overall Good
“We need to give people alternatives,” she says. “If you use your time to help empower someone you are going to make an impact. You need to find what is in your guts that makes you feel you are contributing to the way you want society to be. You are going to die soon, so enjoy the time you have on earth and do something good. You can do this in Reno," she said.
"This is such a small place you can even change laws yourself through lobbying as I helped with (on a bill which was passed unanimously to allow transgender people to change their names without publishing their new and original names in a newspaper). In a small place, like here, if I am in trouble I can crash on a person’s couch. People will support you to get back on your feet. So you can do it here, you need to fight for what you think needs fighting for.”