Protracted Negotiations Suddenly Gone Wrong
This past Spring, local officials announced volunteer organized meal services for those living on the streets would be moving away from the downtown Reno homeless compound, alleging overcrowding and security issues. At first, a date of May first was given for all the meals to change location, but then that deadline was pushed back giving more time for negotiations.
But now after weeks of discussions, and the sudden release of a new Reno protocol for these meals, the impasse between the city and volunteers has widened. Friday, immediately after receiving the new form, the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality board of directors issued a statement saying in part, “we cannot sign at this time and await a collaborative solution while we and the other volunteers who serve this community continue to provide lifesaving resources to our neighbors.”
The new protocol would have volunteers be responsible for cleaning the new meal space, including the restrooms, by 8 p.m. nightly, maintaining “order and safety”, ensuring no one is lined up before 5 p.m. and that everyone is gone by 8 p.m., and being responsible for calling law enforcement if needed, among other stipulations.
The We Care Volunteers followed up with their own statement on Saturday, which was very clear in its opposition in the first paragraph: “We are appalled that while for nearly 10 years we have provided over 2500 meals per month, without any City of Reno support—that at this time you would burden our volunteers with the “program roles and responsibilities” of cleaning bathrooms, disposing of our guests trash, being present hours before we serve to ensure guests don't gather earlier than 5 pm, and have the sole responsibility to "maintain order and safety" by acting as first-responders to contacting medical and police services.”
New Scheduled Meeting but Still No Exact Site Identified
An email sent to volunteers, signed by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy of Operations, Greg Herrera, indicates a new lease has been signed with the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, for a site on 4th street, to serve as a new location for the volunteer meals.
“I’m happy to report that the City of Reno has identified and signed a lease with TMWA for an alternative site on 4th Street where your groups will be able to safely provide meals to the homeless population in our area,” he wrote in the email dated August 27th. “I don’t have all the details right now, but we will be coordinating a meeting with you in the next week or two to get you all of the information. “
The “Meal Delivery Release” was sent by Hettie Ploeger, Management Analyst for the City of Reno, on August 30th. “Please keep in mind that each volunteer will need to sign the release,” the email read. “We will be happy to discuss this further at the meeting on September 9th.”
Lacking Proper Spirit
As part of the We Care Volunteers statement, it said the new protocol “would cause undo concern and instead of starting our meal service with a positive spirit of cooperation, it would instead create a menacing atmosphere and further demonize and purport our guests as dangerous, disease ridden, hazardous individuals who may not deserve our service.”
Other volunteers pointed to inconsistencies in how the city is framing the issue. They said the reason the meals were being moved was allegedly for security, but if the volunteers were now responsible for security, they thought it seemed to indicate city officials had no interest in the security of those being helped, since volunteers did not have any of the security resources which are currently used at the Community Assistance Center in downtown Reno.
Angela Handler, who coordinates the 80 or so volunteers with Loka Cares, said she would soon forward them the new protocol, but was initially stopped in her tracks expressing “utter disappointment.”
She said her group served its community meal as it normally does this past Friday at the downtown compound and vowed “to continue to create meals for those in need as food and compassion is an absolute right.”
Saturday, Lisa Lee, a recovery specialist and advocate for those living on the streets, wrote an email to “the compassionate army of volunteers,” stating: “I am appalled at the direction the City of Reno is moving and hope that meal service volunteers will stand in solidarity with RISE and We Care in refusing to sign on to these harmful, denigrating, and outrageous terms. I also hope that each volunteer group will continue to serve our amazing community members, friends, and neighbors facing poverty and homelessness in the radically inclusive spirit you all exhibit.”