A Delay to Continue Feedings at Shelter, But Uncertainties about the Future
On the evening of April 24, Reno Deputy Police Chief Mac Venzon, Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam and Amber Howell, the Washoe County Human Services Agency Director, led a community meeting to discuss why changes are being made to volunteer feedings for the homeless population, most importantly moving them away from the downtown shelter compound, due to security concerns and overcrowding.
Sheriff Balaam assured those attending that the May 1st date initially mentioned to begin with these changes is now flexible and that feedings can continue for the time being at the shelter until a new plan and locations are agreed upon.
One idea expressed by law enforcement was to move the feedings to different locations within a three to four block radius of the Record Street shelter, where a majority of available resources for those in need currently are.
Suggestions included Reno City Plaza, Brodhead Park, Barbara Bennett Park on Island Ave. and by the Wells bridge.
Volunteers said moving the location of their feedings could cause new problems, including easy access for those who depend on the healthy, nutritious meals which are regularly provided at the shelter. Rather than one location for rotating volunteer groups, it was also suggested there could two to three new locations.
Diverging Views on Safety Issues
Throughout the session, volunteers expressed concern at why the feedings need to move at all.
Reno Deputy Police Chief Venzon said it’s for safety as he said he’s seen stabbings and batteries after feedings. He says the goal is to also, in his words, “dilute concentration,” of people to make it safer for those eating and for those serving.
Volunteers, including Nobles (in photo above), who has been serving meals for 8 years with the Pirates of Reno, didn’t share this view.
“[The people receiving food] are so happy that they're getting something to eat. They're usually very, very humble. [..] They're not there to get violent. They're there to eat,” Nobles said.
Law enforcement and county officials have expressed concern that too many people not staying at the shelter go to the compound for these meals.
If the feeding location is changed, volunteers said issues like having available bathrooms and trash cans on site will also have to be addressed.
On the positive side, Nobles was impressed with how many people came to protect meal sharing. He felt that for the first time, at least, their concerns were heard.
“It's kind of nice to hear from the sheriff stating, ‘We’ll help you,’ or the city police department (saying), ‘We’ll help you,’ instead of telling the person on the street, ‘Better not get caught [...] giving sandwiches out on the street because you're going to get in trouble for it.’ We need to be able to help each other,” Nobles said.
Howell, the Washoe County Human Services Agency Director, said everything said at the meeting would be taken into account, and that possible locations would be narrowed down before another meeting to decide where, when and how volunteers will be able to feed those without shelter in our community. No date was set for the next community meeting, but until then volunteers were told they can still stick to their current schedules at the shelter compound.