A Riverside Community
Terry, 45, remembers well when he recently "graduated" from the local Ridge House recovery program for those struggling with addiction. He quickly found himself sleeping in a stairwell in downtown Reno. It was people living in informal encampments along the Truckee River he says who gave him what he needed in terms of communal support and living arrangements.
"They helped me set up a tent and helped get me going again. Nobody goes hungry there," he said at a recent meeting set up by a friend who has been checking in on them regularly since the police operation. "If we see someone's hungry, we'll share food or make sure we find food they can have."
After recently being uprooted from his most recent riverside sleeping spot in a cleanup operation led by Sparks PD, his possessions either thrown in a big dumpster or inventoried and taken away, it's others along the river who once again stepped up and gave him and Cheryl a new tent and tarps to set up their new sleeping spot.
He says the police said he should go to the shelter, but he couldn't envision being separated from Cheryl and their dog Bubba. Still it was traumatic. "We had all our blankets, our ice chest, full of food and dog food ... my tools I had saved up for to be able to do mechanic work .... We had been there a year," he said.
Protecting Animals along the River
Terry says he tries to be a force for good along the river, including saving animals during and after the cleanup.
"There was a skunk, he had his head stuck in a yogurt cup and he was on the main part of the drag. They also uprooted a lot of animals. We called the Humane Society and they were taking too long where I thought it was going to die, so I grabbed it and removed the cup from it so it would survive. You know the skunk sprayed me, but that's ok."
He says a cat and a hawk died as areas were bulldozed. "It wasn't just the homes of the homeless they destroyed, there were bluejays too."
Uprooted but Not Gone
Cheryl suffers from recurring seizures and first ended up sleeping under a bridge after being kicked out of an apartment with an ex-boyfriend for making too much noise.
She says despite the warnings and the clean up operation, and talk of anti-camping ordinances, those living along the river are still there.
"None of them really left the river. They just relocated to a different area of the river. It's just a matter of where. A lot of them just went back to the Reno side. I'm not going to lie about that either. So now it's Reno's problem. They're talking about anti-camping ordinances but a lot say it's ridiculous. You guys can consider it camping, but it's not camping for us, it's living. That's how we survive. Most of us aren't making a mess or causing trouble. We're just trying to get by and live our lives."
Cheryl and Terry say they've noticed more and more people actually coming to live along the river, not fewer, despite the occasional police operations. They say it's often new people adjusting to a new situation of homelessness who are angry and depressed who make everyone along the river look bad.
"There's messy people and we try to regulate that stuff we really do," Cheryl said. "I've walked down the river path many times and picked up garbage. I've yelled at people who do drugs along the river, or who drop a bag or a needle or something, and I'll scream and holler at them because it's disgusting. You just don't do that. But it's also people who just come to the river on the weekends who also leave trash everywhere," she said.
Looking out for Each Other
Both say they were derailed in their lives previously by bad relationships and also "bad choices." Now that they've found each other, they don't want go to shelters and be separated.
They barely get by, with Terry sometimes finding jobs helping people move or clean out lots for businesses. A former musician and certified mechanic with a bachelor's in engineering, he's also worked helping with events at the GSR, and says he's available for any honest job. Cheryl uses pot to deal with her seizures, but the recent stress and heat are worrying her. She says he helped her deal with not "totally losing it" during the police cleanup, and making it worse.
"He's kind of my good angel on my shoulder...." she said. "He's the only person I listen to in the world. I don't know why but I do. With him around, I also can't do something stupid, because he needs me too."
Reporting by Our Town Reno in July 2018