Front line of Reno’s poverty war

With two adults working, there’s enough money to pay rent, utilities and, perhaps, car insurance. For help with food, visit St. Vincent’s Food Pantry for monthly supplies of non-perishables and “dailies” like milk, eggs and bread. For health care, see a doctor or get dental work at Health Access Washoe County for a reduced fee. For warm winter clothes or blankets, get clothing vouchers for thrift shops.

You aren’t falling through the cracks. Not yet. Then something upsets the balance. A car accident. A tumor. Hours are cut, or a job is lost. Junior gets sick, and Dad stays home with him. It’s now much harder to stay afloat.

In Reno, poverty is often situational, says Jaye Hill, who fronts the emergency assistance desk at Catholic Community Services of Northern Nevada.

“People fall through the cracks because they live so close to the edge,” Hill says. When people are just scraping by, there’s no budgetary planning for the future.

“They don’t think about how to pay the bills tomorrow.”

Life’s a gamble, sometimes literally. Hill recalls when a CCS client won a $10,000 jackpot. She felt rich.

“She went out and got a car, some nice clothes and an apartment,” Hill says. “But after two months, she was back in here for a gas voucher.”

The money was gone. The woman couldn’t afford rent or gas.

“For two months, she had a great time.”

Two women and three children walk into Catholic Community Services hoping to get a gas voucher. Hill tells them that they need a driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance. The insurance seems a problem.

“Do you have bus passes?” asks one woman, a child balanced on her hip.

“No, but we’ll be getting more on Tuesday,” Hill responds cheerily.

A steady stream of people trickle through Hill’s office Friday, an hour after the agency’s dining room finishes serving its daily free lunch downtown. Unlike some faith-based help programs, CCS doesn’t require participants to attend religious programs.

With a warm smile, Hill juggles phone and desk, connecting families and senior citizens with needed resources. The agency also links pregnant women with families seeking to adopt babies. A large U.S. flag hangs on Hill’s office wall along with a collection of lighthouse art—a clock, tapestry and a poem that begins: “Take time to think. It is the source of power. Take time to play. It is the secret of perpetual youth.”

As the weather gets colder, Hill says, demand increases for warm blankets, jackets, boots and warm clothes. When funds exist, the agency offers limited rental assistance to some qualifying families. This helps out when a family finds itself confronted with a choice—paying the rent or taking care of a high winter power bill.

Energy assistance grants can take 30 days, she says. When the power’s getting turned off in two days, an emergency grant to help with rent may save the day.

Community donations help. Tax-deductible gifts of money, clothing, furniture, appliances and vehicles are welcomed. Call 322-7073 or visit CCS of Northern Nevada at 500 E. Fourth St. in Reno. For an upcoming “Santa on a Harley” event 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 21 at St. Vincent’s Center, the agency needs Polaroid 600 film and gifts for children 12 and older—as they’ve received enough toys for younger children. Hill suggests make-up kits and CDs.

“We like every child to get a gift,” Hill says.

Not in the mood for It’s a Wonderful Life and unwilling to waste $8 on Christmas With the Kranks? Rent Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X. Besides its treatment of racial injustice, the movie delves into the complexities of Islam in a way that seems relevant now. It’s long, but Denzel Washington’s performance as one of America’s least-sung heroes is amazing.