When we first met Timothy Doss, he was taking part in an outreach program several years ago, living the life of a homeless person for 72 hours, with dirty clothes, just a backpack, and no money, relying on food lines to eat while sleeping in hidden spots overnight.
“I actually tried to go in a few establishments and I was shunned upon,” he remembers. “I felt the lowest I've ever felt in my life. Like I didn't belong there… Walking in homeless to a restaurant or anything like that, you're actually shunned upon … Reno is actually a completely different world. It's completely different being homeless than being a regular person. You’ve got to find somewhere to charge your cell phone. We were actually kicked out of the bus station several times and we needed to keep recharging, but we kept getting kicked out.”
He says he believes local elected officials, including Mayor Hillary Schieve, should try the same experiment.
“She should come and try to do [it] completely dressed down and feel what it’s like to be homeless so she can better realize what's going down here. I do dare her to come down here and do that. It would be really cool. That would be something that, you know, even any council member should do and know how Reno is a completely different town [if you’re homeless].
Doss, a graduate of Reno High, not only gives items he comes across to the homeless, but also to those who are struggling and moving into new housing.
“We will try to furnish your apartment with whatever used goods we have. .. very clean beds, tvs,” he said. “It's not perfect stuff, but it will definitely get you started. Maybe some dish ware, clothing and stuff like that. A lot of people, when you got to start moving someplace … something bad happened where you had to move and you left everything. We try to furnish your house. It's not the best things in the world, but you can always upgrade, but it's something that you can definitely live with, with the kids.”
A single father taking care of five kids, he also sets an example for them to give back as well.
“My sons are very in tune with the homeless,” he said. “We happened to go to McDonald's a couple of days ago and my son got his allowance and he saw there was a homeless person sitting there and he took his allowance out of his pocket. He walked up and bought them lunch. That is just the most amazing experience that I can pass it on to my kids,” he said.
Feeling the Pain
Doss says he recently struggled to find new housing for himself and sees that while there is growth going on in Reno, there is also an affordable housing crisis.
“I personally just moved and it is really hard to get an apartment,” he said. “Everything is overpriced… the motels are getting demolished. All the motels downtown are leaving now and there's less and less places to go. And me having a job, having money, it was actually hard for me to actually find a place that I needed to go through because it's getting so expensive. Anything that does come up for rent, people are throwing three, four, five months worth of rent and it's, it's hard. It's hard out there.”
He says Reno is a beautiful place with a tight knight community but that there’s a risk the Biggest Little City could lose some of its soul if it doesn’t do a better job helping those in need.
“There's two towns. there's really just two towns. You don't realize it until you're down there and you're homeless. You have zero money. You can't walk into a restaurant … You're being kicked out because the way you look. I say to everybody, if you see a homeless person, smile, and that might be the best thing that's happened to them all day.”
He says going undercover also made him realize how kind homeless people can be.
“They knew we weren't eating. One of the homeless actually brought some food to me … They're probably the best people in the world that they will actually give you the shirt off their back instead of somebody that's just living a regular life.”
Growing his Karma Business Model
Doss said he is planning to grow his model into other cities.
“We're actually talking about going some other towns almost like franchising and we're trying to give back to the community, Karma based businesses,” he said. “We're just trying to get it bigger and get the word out and have a better business across the US and it's gonna grow. It's gonna get big.”
He says everyone should think of their own karma when encountering homeless residents in Reno.
“Next time you see the person on the street and you say something rude or derogatory, they're in that position for a reason. Some people don't belong down here, but they are, because of a physical disability or something. Some people fall back on hard times. Some people fall on drugs and alcohol. Try to see if they need something, don't give too much but give an open heart. And definitely it could be you holding that sign…”
Reporting by Jordan Blevins and Prince Nesta for Our Town Reno