Folded tent

An adjunct to the city homeless shelter is no more

At Tent City, police and security officers milled about while residents dismantled their structures.

At Tent City, police and security officers milled about while residents dismantled their structures.

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There were just three days left until the city was planning to shut down Reno’s Tent City. One of the residents of the four remaining tents was not happy.

“We follow the rules like they say, and then they kick us out,” he said.

The unhappiness was to be expected, but the city saw the shutdown as progress in dealing with Reno’s homeless. It set noon on Thursday, June 30, as the deadline for the remaining residents to leave.

Ten months ago, the city began using a new strategy to do something about Tent City, located near the city’s homeless facilities east of downtown Reno. Residents of Tent City were required to sit down with city homeless coordinator Krista Lee, who—one by one—began trying to relocate people in permanent housing. Slowly the population of Tent City began declining.

“It’s basic case management,” Lee said in describing these sessions. “You sit down and talk about goals. The first question is, what do you need to get off the street? Usually they identify jobs or Social Security disability or some other thing.”

Lee has a lot of lists and websites and offices she can call on to help with each of these needs.

Since September, 121 people met with Lee. Twenty-five of them moved into permanent subsidized housing. Others found places in residential motels, with friends or family members, or in transition programs. Some drifted away. During the homeless census in January, there were 239 homeless individuals in Reno.

At the end, just four tents remained, and their residents did not appear to be likely to obtain permanent housing soon, but they will be able to use the shelter if they choose.

“I think they all have goals of obtaining housing, but they have not obtained housing yet,” Lee said.

This tent, a sort of fabric igloo, was taken down by its occupant and removed along with all his possessions.

Photo By dennis myers

As is the wont of government, the city does not necessarily call things by descriptive names. “Tent City” is not good public relations, so the name “Safe Ground” was given to the site. None of the denizens used it. Tent City originally developed from overflow of the homeless shelter.

The former site of Tent City, a sort of park, will remain open for use by the homeless during the daytime, but not to take up residence. In fact, that was the original purpose of the site, to give homeless people a place to relax when they’re not working or job hunting.

“That’s one of our goals, is to return it back to what it was designed to be, a day area for people who use the Community Assistance Center there,” Lee said. “There’s not a lot of hang-out space.”

Tent City was just east of where Record Street dead ends against the railroad tracks, across the tracks from Aces Ballpark. The term park suggests trees and grass, which is not the case. There are shade structures and a concrete walkway, but it’s just a dirt lot. It serves the purpose of keeping homeless people off of Record Street, where they are sometimes at risk from cars. And it keeps them from hanging out in front of downtown casinos.

When the hour of noon on June 30 came, there was no confrontation. In fact, no one in an official capacity even approached the remaining residents. It was the other way around—a couple of the residents chatted with police and security officers who had appeared at the site. The police officers said they were not there to enforce anything, just to “see what was happening.” In fact, it was so low key that not even city homeless officials like Lee made an appearance. There was nothing done to make the remaining residents feel defensive. Of the four tents that had been there on Tuesday, one was gone. Its occupant took it and all his possessions with him.

A second tent was still standing, with a few possessions inside, such as the James Michener novel The Covenant and a copy of Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order by Mark Crispin Miller. The former resident had taken his other possessions with him and left word that the city could have the tent and its contents. One of the police officers said, “They took every service the city had to offer while they were here, and now they want the city to clean up after them.”

A third tent was being cleared out by the people who had been chatting with the police and would presumably soon be gone.

And the fourth tent was in place with all its possessions. The occupant could not be immediately located.

Even before the last tents were removed, there were people using the site to hang out—as, in fact, they had been all along, even when the site was crowded with tents and their occupants.

One of them who declined to give his name said, “No one resented them for having tents here. We still used the area.” He said those who frequent Record Street have a way of making allowance for each other’s needs and idiosyncracies, as long as no one takes advantage.

Another, Francis Rathbun, said he was new in town and was staying at the shelter. He grew up in a poor family and has been injured several times over the years, at work and otherwise. He has no wish to remain in Reno. Because of his repeated injuries, he receives some disability payments but still expects to live out his life in homeless facilities.

“I don’t really feel like going back to the East Coast until winter, and then actually I have a plan to head back there,” he said. “The best plan I have is another facility like this that I just may grow old at called the Pine Street Inn in Boston.”