Find moral solutions

As the snow flies on a Sunday evening, as an ornate dinner perfumes the house, and the iPod sets a mood of comfortable buzz, it’s hard to imagine that it’s too late for anything. But this newspaper will be on the stands the day before Thanksgiving Day, and on Thanksgiving and on coming days, many, many people in Reno will have little to be thankful for. They’re homeless.

Let’s back up for a moment to the Reno City Council’s Nov. 17 discussion of an ordinance amending Reno Municipal Code, “Public Peace, Safety and Morals,” making sitting or lying down on public sidewalks between Keystone and Wells avenues under certain circumstances a misdemeanor offense.

That’s right. Eight days before Thanksgiving Day, our City Council, fortunate souls one and all, had the audacity to threaten our city’s least fortunate people with fines and jail for sleeping on sidewalks, where their numbers make a dire situation a little safer. The City Council, of course, took the day before Thanksgiving off. All’s right with their world, and they’re good, moral people who don’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from. Their slumber won’t be bothered by thoughts of people who have no better options than to sleep on sidewalks.

Or maybe that’s unfair. Maybe our City Council members are really worried about those people who sleep in groups on sidewalks near downtown. Of course, Record Street is where this City Council put the low-income services—because this location wasn’t too close to downtown. Still, the Council will probably vote on Dec. 1 to make these poor people’s lives a little worse, a little less safe, by redefining what is meant by “downtown.”

So let’s talk a little about public morals. Apparently, we elected the City Council to administer the public morals, as evidenced by the municipal code. Few want to see homeless people sleeping on sidewalks. And, except for some business owners and tourism officials, this is not because they offend our sense of aesthetics, but because it offends our sense of morality: This is not the way human beings in the United States of America should have to live.

We also elected our City Council to find solutions. It’s their moral responsibility to find solutions. Well, in a moral world, when people have to sleep on sidewalks because there’s nowhere else to go, the people charged with protecting the public peace, safety and morals find better places for them.

We, the taxpayers, are owners of many square feet in the city of Reno, including the sidewalks. There are many places that are not sidewalks where poor people could sleep. How about inside that closed downtown bus station? How about any of those empty offices in City Hall? How about under that overhang at East Plaza Street at the Bowling Stadium?

It’s too late for the poorest among us to have a place off the sidewalks to sleep on Thanksgiving, but maybe if the Reno City Council develops a sense of morality to replace its misplaced sense of propriety, those aesthetically challenging poor people may have safer places to sleep, those scandalized business owners may find some relief, and the Reno City Council may be able to fulfill its moral duties.