A few years ago, a Reno reporter pitched a story to his desk on the way heavy security at the Washoe County Courthouse was discouraging tourists who wanted to see the courtrooms where movie stars once got their divorces. The security had been thrown around the entire courthouse though nearly all courthouse violence happens in family court, and the reporter wanted to do a story on why the gear like metal detectors was not used only where the violence happened.
One of the 20-something newsroom producers asked, “Why would anyone object to metal detectors?” She had grown up seeing that kind of security and so had no memory of a more casual, less restrictive society.
We often encounter the way we have adapted ourselves to the way things are and don’t question whether they necessarily have to be that way.
Elsewhere in this edition, in our dining guide, Anna Hart wrote about Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality, a program to feed homeless people here in the valley. She wrote, “There are a number of organizations that are hot meal providers, from grassroots organizations like We Care Volunteers and LoKa Cares, to programs run by local church groups like St. Vincent’s Food Pantry and Reno Sparks Gospel Mission. Each of these groups do their part to ensure that dozens, if not hundreds of people will have the chance to eat at least one warm, quality meal every day. RISE is another one of these organizations.”
There are so many such programs now that eventually the Food Bank was created to gather food for many of them so they did not all have to do that work separately.
For those whose experiences in Reno are post-1980, it may be a surprise that this network of assistance is relatively new. For 40 years, there was no large homeless class in the United States. From World War II until the 1980s, all needy in the Truckee Meadows—disabled, blind, whoever—were served by the Salvation Army, wth a small dozen-beds shelter, that later was supplemented by St. Vincent’s Dining Room. So what happened?
Ronald Reagan was elected president. Elections have consequences. With new Republican majorities and Blue Dog Democrats, large parts of the social safety net that had provided services through seven presidencies of both parties were dismantled. Programs were cut, taxes reduced, training eliminated, catsup was designated a vegetable for purposes of compliance with federal guidelines. Gradually people ended up on the street. The population of those who slept in doorways or on heating grates grew. People with college degrees who never expected to have economic problems ended up getting work at casual labor offices. Private organizations were created to deal with this new homeless population. Reno began a quarter-century-long effort to find a location for one central homeless shelter. The same thing happened in communities across the nation. Thank goodness private groups like those in Reno took up the slack, though some of them have come and gone.
We are recalling this in order to tell those who did not experience it that it doesn’t have to be this way. At some point as a society we decided we were going to leave these things up to fate and private groups. Whether we agree with the Reagan change or not, it is of our own making.