A hidden population
Reno's homeless youth take shelter
There is a hidden community in Reno—young people walking around in casual clothes, having fun conversations, showing no signs of trouble or trauma. But there is something underlying.
Homeless youth are an unrevealed population. They might have left their houses and families because they felt unsafe. It’s a daily struggle for homeless youth as they spend time and energy surviving, finding a place to sleep, shower and eat.
The Eddy House is an organization in Reno that helps this community. It’s an intake and assessment facility for homeless youth. But, in some ways, it’s as hidden as the population it serves. When locals mention the term “Eddy,” the first thought that comes to many people’s minds is the new beer garden by the same name, located downtown near the Truckee River.
“I don’t understand why they decided to use the name of a homeless youth center, but they can do whatever they want and I hope they’re successful,” Michele Gehr, director of Eddy House, said. “We are just having trouble understanding.”
Eddy House got its start in 2011, when its founder, Lynette Eddy, was completing her master’s degree in social work at University of Nevada, Reno.
After meeting some homeless kids near the river, Eddy purchased a house and opened it to former foster boys, providing a place where young men who had aged out of the foster system could stay. It was located near Z-Pie Pizza Parlor, which she also owned. In 2012, she began employing the foster boys to work in the shop. The idea was to teach them job skills and use revenue from the pizza parlor to essentially fund the house. This continued for several years before another opportunity arose.
“When she was approached by the Community Foundation [of Western Nevada] in 2015, they asked her if she would consider a drop-in center for homeless youth,” Gehr said.
Eddy closed down the pizza parlor, and the drop-in center was opened in 2015. It was initially called the You Resource Drop-in Center but was renamed Eddy House. And, although initially the staff wasn’t sure if the kids would come, Eddy House has managed to help over 400 homeless youths in the past year.
The house itself, on East Sixth Street, is very small, with just a single common room, an insignificant kitchen, a tiny backyard with a basketball hoop. The rest of the building is used for offices and storage.
When Gehr joined the organization, she said that her main concern was to develop programming and structure.
“There is a small window of opportunity before these kids age out and become homeless adults,” she said. “I really wanted to be as impactful as we could be.”
In recent years, the problem of youth homelessness has tripled locally.
“We now have the fastest-growing homeless population in the country,” Gehr said.
Who are these homeless kids, and where do they come from?
Eddy House works with homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 24. Most of the kids have left their houses due to trauma. The streets in the dark can be a cruel and unsafe place. The homeless youth of Reno often find shelter in motels, bus stations and casinos, which they deem safer than their homes.
“One thing that was surprising was we had a high percentage of kids who have moved in their lives over 20 times,” said Taylor Zimney, the former crisis manager of Eddy House.
Many of the homeless youth experience assault of some sort at least once a week on the streets.
“They are bought and sold, abused, taken advantage of and have their very [lives] threatened,” Gehr said.
Gehr and Zimney recalled an incident that happened just a few weeks earlier. A young man was waiting at the door before Eddy House opened at 10 a.m., covered in bandages. He said that somebody had assaulted him on the streets with a knife.
“He was traumatized, he was scared and sobbing, and he said that he just can’t do this life anymore,” Gehr recalled.Partners in crime-fighting
Eddy House provides a safe space for the youth to heal by providing programs and partnering with various organizations. Programs such as emotional regulation, music therapy, mental health groups, life skills and job skills groups are offered to the youth. Most of these programs are arranged and conducted based on the needs of the youth in-house.
“One of the programs that has been the most beneficial for me is the Jobs and Resume groups,” said “Nick,” a young person whose name has been changed for this story. “It helps us with how to get a job, and if we are looking for a job, how to get out there.”
In the past, the organization has also done outreach programs in the city plaza, near the river, where they provide homeless youth who are not part of their organization food, hygiene products and information about the Eddy House. But they have recently been unable to staff the outreach program.
The Eddy House has established partnerships with various agencies such as Northern Nevada HOPES, Foodbank of Northern Nevada, and Reno Bike Project, among many others.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 40 percent of homeless youth identify themselves as part of the LGBT community. In connection to that, the vice president of Our Center, Meredith Tanzer, has an office at Eddy House.
“[Our Center is] an LGBT community center where their [Eddy House] kids can come to our programming,” Tanzer said.
Nick came to the Eddy House a year ago, at the insistence of a friend. He got into Truckee Meadows Community College, another of Eddy House’s partners, where he earned a GED, plus a certification in community health work.Break the ice
The young people at Eddy House tease, play and help each other out. Most of them do not think of themselves as homeless, and consider the motels they stay in as home.
“They don’t identify themselves as the population that is in Record Street,” Zimney said. “They think they’re young and wild, and things may seem unstable now, but they will even out.”
Record Street is the location of the shelter for the city’s homeless population, but the kids do not go there. One might think that being young and homeless would get the young people more help and understanding from the older people, but it is a fight for territory. So many homeless youth do not use any of the other shelters or centers available, instead reaching out to youth-focused groups such as the Eddy House.
When the young people come to the Eddy House, they usually come in search of food or a place to shower and sleep safely. The organization has provided over 23,000 snacks and drinks throughout the past year and over 800 showers as well.
The organization has a detailed intake program which helps track the progress of the young people and gather information that can be used for research, monitoring and understanding the situation of youth homelessness in Northern Nevada.
“When they come in, we try to verify their ages, and immediately fill out the needs assessment and an 11-page form,” Zimney said.
The top three needs of the last year, in order, have been jobs, housing and clothes.
The organization is the recipient of a Victims of Crime Act grant, which is used to survey the young people about whether they have been victims of sexual or domestic violence, child pornography or discrimination due to ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation. The Eddy House provides anonymity to the youth when it comes to personal information.
The intake process may seem grueling, but the youth are awarded with perks, like tempting fast food coupons. The theme of awarding the youth for participation is consistent. Walmart coupons are provided if they attend group programs, and donated gift cards are raffled off every week. The Eddy House has benefited from boxes of donations of food, clothes, hygiene products and other utilities from humanitarians in Reno.
“They have a lot of resources and Wi-Fi, which helps you stay in contact with people,” Jasmine, one of the youth at the facility, said. “I’ve gone to group homes and other people, but these people have helped me get my ID, social security and jobs.”
In the basement of the tiny house is a closet which holds clothes of many different sizes, colors and styles. There are heaps of shoes mounded in a corner, and clothes on racks for jobs and other occasions. Even when other aspects of their lives might seem bleak, the young people enjoy browsing the racks—a bittersweet version of shopping.Downhill battles
The Eddy House currently opens its doors for the homeless youth at 10 a.m. and shuts them down at 5 p.m. on the weekdays. These limited hours, according to the staff, create major setbacks in the progress the young people make.
“At 5 o’clock, we are like, here’s your food bag, see you tomorrow, and it is not safe out there,” said Alexis Kranovich, who works for the organization.
This creates a cycle where the young people sustain trauma on the streets at night, and then return to the Eddy House looking to be patched up in the morning. And when the house closes for the day and sends them out again, new experiences and trauma bring them back to square one.
Eradicating youth homelessness could be easier if the youth are not stuck in the cycle of trauma. The immediate goal of the Eddy House is to find a bigger space, somewhere around 8,000 square feet, with room for 50 beds.
“We are desperate to find a location, and it needs to be downtown,” Gehr said. “We can open a facility in the middle of nowhere, but the kids gravitate towards the opportunity and entertainment.”
The current facility is small and cannot hold more than 25 people. The Eddy House interacts with young people more than 700 times a month, and that number is growing. It’s bittersweet to see an increase in the number of interactions, as it shows that more people are reaching out for help, but at the same time, there are more homeless youth.
“We need a bigger facility,” Zimney said. “It gets cramped when there are over 20 kids as they are crawling over each other. It is stinky and mucky.”
Another major pitfall in the organization is the lack of food. Despite the many food bags and snacks provided, the Eddy House staff cannot use the fully functional stove or oven available in the kitchen. This results in the kids living off cereal and microwaveable food as their only big meal of the day.
“You have to have a restaurant-style licensing or certain criteria to prepare and serve food for a lot of people,” Zimney said. “Also, at this point, you need someone full-time in the kitchen, as it is kind of dangerous with the oven and stove.”
The common consensus from the youth and staff at the Eddy House is a desire to relocate and open a center that can cater to young people at all times. There are also plans being made to provide in-house education, therapy space and offices for partnering agencies inside the facility, but the need of the hour is to find the space for it.
“You are never going to get all the kids or homeless people out of downtown, but we can keep them busy and productive so they are not causing trouble downtown,” Gehr said.
Food, shelter and clothes are considered fundamental human needs. These young people, aged 12 to 24, leave their houses to fend for themselves without the means to meet those needs. The services and the help provided by the Eddy House is crucial.
There is a family vibe to the house. There is laughter and jokes among the kids, a sense of safety, and a glimmer of hope among the staff and the youth. With the motto “House of Help, House of Hope,” Eddy House strives to live up to it.By the numbers
Eddy House interactions since March, 2016
First time visitors last year (March 16 - April 17):
Food bags provided:
Safe showers offered:
Snacks and drinks in house: