A changing group

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

I travel through downtown frequently, so maybe homeless people are on my radar screen more than on other people’s, but I’ve noticed a significant change in the average homeless person in Reno. I think it says something about where this country is right now.

Reno used to have two types of homeless people that frequented the downtown area: The substance-addicted and the mentally ill. (Please note, I am aware of homeless families living in Fourth Street weeklies and the like, but for the most part, they’re keeping their heads down, trying to maintain their dignity. I’m talking about the other ones.)

Lately, I’ve noticed a change. A lot more people with decent backpacks and suitcases instead of shopping carts; a lot more clean clothes instead of mismatched rags. There are a lot of newly homeless people who used to live more traditional lives but lost their tenuous hold with the economic downturn.

You know what they remind me of? They remind me of those photos from the Dust Bowl and the Depression—the Grapes of Wrath types.

I haven’t noticed them to be particularly angry. Often, they look like they are going somewhere. I’ve got to imagine, though, if the numbers continue to grow, and the already strained support systems fail, that some are going to turn to crime for sustenance and other crimes for emotional balm. We’ve seen it many times in history.

I was in San Francisco this weekend where I saw two homeless people smoking crack, a man pissing on a sidewalk, and a woman hurling racist remarks. And then there was the freaky missionaries calling down God’s hatred outside the Forever 21 store.

I don’t know what to make of the changing makeup of the homeless population in Reno yet. What are your thoughts?