Amy, a struggling sketchbook portrait artist who moves back and forth between Arizona and Reno, is sitting outside the Ponderosa, hoping a previous acquaintance will invite her in for the night, but the receptionist keeps pushing her away. "This isn't a flophouse," the receptionist says. "I'm tired of this place," she adds. "The music is too loud everywhere ... and people don't have their IDs like they're supposed to."
Amy used to live here and says it's better now, with more rules and fewer drugs, but that when she lived at the Ponderosa she wasn't "a good person." She says she got in trouble and that now for some reason she's banned. She doesn't give too many specifics.
"It's a good place to be short term," she says, "but long term, it's best to make other plans." Still for one night here and there, she says "it's good enough, if I was welcome."
Life at the Ponderosa
The lobby entrance is filled with fifty and sixty somethings, many of them in wheelchairs, many of them with tiny dogs.
If they can afford it and aren't kicked out, Amy says, "it's ok. They just need a place where they can lock their door and try to be happy and well inside." Amy says ambulances often come by for people who are sick or also for those who overdose or have bad reactions. "There's drugs," she says, "heroin and meth. But people are pretty discrete about it."
She said when she lived here, she was in a bad relationship and also had a drinking and gambling problem.
"I messed it up for myself by gambling," she says of her life. "Gambling is not a good thing. I have also been conned, scammed, railroaded for money ….. I borrowed money to gamble more," she said. "You make mistakes and there are repercussions. There is balance in the universe."
She says she now gets a monthly Social Security Disability Insurance benefit of $740, and tries to make money by salvaging, and reselling what she finds for people who hold regular yard sales.
Despite what she says are frequent cockroaches, she sometimes misses sleeping inside. "I got pneumonia from too much freezing and thawing outside. But other motels, where I don't know all the seedy people, I don't want that," she says. Monthly rent at the Ponderosa can still be had for below $800 and Amy says she'd be happy to come back.
Back on the Streets
Amy says she usually finds spots to camp in alleys in Sparks or Reno. She doesn't like the main shelter or where homeless like her congregate.
"Oh yeah I want to listen to old guys bickering, whining and screaming and bugs," she says. "No! I’m a camper. "
She says she's also been kicked out of a local RV camp, but stays despite all the challenges because she has two kids who live here.
But she says she does want to go back to Arizona where she also has family and used to help people she knows there with furniture refurnishing. She also used to make and sell walking sticks.
"Maybe one day, I could write a book about homelessness in Reno," she says. "It’s a sad place. It needs a lot of help. Lots of people are sad here," she says before packing her bags, and thanking us for a cigarette.