Floyd Kevin Ard was removed from his camp in Idlewild Park by city officials early Friday morning. He had been there for two days, he said, and before that he had been transferred from a camp near Diamond’s Casino.
He came to City Plaza on Friday to find some respite from the morning heat and think about what to do next.
“Every time they sweep someone up,” Ard said, “we lose a bit of our dignity, we lose our possessions and we lose our faith in this city.”
Over the past three weeks, the City of Reno and the Reno Police Department displaced homeless people from camps, starting with the larger one under the Wells Avenue Viaduct. On June 2, authorities began clearing a long Edison Road and Mill Street.
In response, local advocates called on the city to stop moving people and began to occupy part of City Plaza, across from City Hall. This group of a dozen people also started an online and physical petition, calling on Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve to stop the sweeps. As of Friday, he had passed 1,100 signatures.
Ard is unhappy with the latest sweeps of the city’s homeless camps. He knows from experience that this can be a very traumatic event and said he was frustrated with the lack of resources dedicated to this trauma.
“It’s a sad thing,” Ard said. “They are trying to lock people up like cattle.”
He listened to other members of the homeless community and said their greatest fear was being moved to a central location with hundreds of others in the same situation. Ard feels that this concentration of people, all facing varying levels of trauma, ignore their individual needs. He does not intend to go to the CARES Campus, a new shelter for the homeless.
Located along East Fourth Street, near the Interstate 80 and 580 interchange, the CARES campus measures nearly 46,000 square feet and with no COVID-19 restrictions, it is capable of housing 900 people. As of June 3, 511 people were staying at the refuge.
“It’s not a single problem”
As of June 2, the CARES campus could accommodate 93 more people, according to Jon Humbert, head of public information for the city of Reno.
“We appreciate that people share their thoughts and opinions in a peaceful manner,” Humbert said, “but understanding that there is a lot of complexity with this issue.”
While there are many factors at play, Humbert said, the most important are the low number of affordable housing, income inequality and the services available to the homeless community.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all problem that can be solved by just one thing,” Humbert said. “We hope people understand that the city is working on all aspects of this. “
He added that he hopes the community can come together and have patience with the process.
Lawyers occupy City Plaza
As the city continues to move homeless people to the new CARES campus located on East Fourth Street, local advocates have occupied City Plaza across from Reno Town Hall. A dozen community members brave the first heat wave of the season and calling on the city to stop the sweeps.
“We are here with a petition to demand that City Manager Doug Thornley and City Council stop the sweeps,” said Megan O’Farrell. She is part of a group and has been helping homeless people move from camp to camp over the past few weeks.
“We’ve spent months, almost a year now, doing advocacy work with a lot of these people to get into safer spaces,” O’Farrell said. “We have people working in the system to access resources that are dispersed every week. ”
O’Farrell said advocacy work has focused on completing job and housing applications, but the constant intermixing of homeless communities puts that application process at risk. Many members provided public comments at the Reno city council meeting on June 2 and are awaiting a response from city officials.
“I think the best thing they can do is let people stay in one place,” O’Farrell said.
O’Farrell hopes to have a conversation with city officials about possible solutions. She added that there are community members who are ready to help and support the homeless community.
“These people are members of our community,” said O’Farrell, “and I think it’s really important for all of us who are in special places to recognize how important it is to stand up and show solidarity with people who experience this kind of trauma and violence.
Ard, one of those who left camp on Friday, has been in Reno for about three years and suffers from poor health. He was a longtime truck driver and home repairman, but after surviving cancer and several back surgeries, he has had to rely on Social Security and disability benefits that he no longer receives. Also known as the “Reno Storyteller,” Ard takes pride in his stories and often collects a few dollars in exchange for his stories.
“I’m not far from 60, disabled, with no income,” Ard said. “I am where I am because my social security has been cut.”
The pandemic made it difficult for him to get an appointment to try to get his Social Security benefits back, he said, and he was left with no income
Ard feels that the homeless community and the city have become complacent about the situation.
“The people of Reno have to reach out and give hope to these people because without it you have nothing,” he said.
For more information on the sweeps protest, visit the Change.org “Stop the Sweeps in Washoe County” petition. For more information on the CARES campus, managed by the Volunteers of America, visit their website at voa-ncnn.org.
Richard Bednarski is a multimedia intern at the Reno Gazette Journal. He is also a master’s student at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at [email protected] and 775-527-2156. Help us support his work and local journalism by subscribing.