As some of the first snowflakes of winter fell on Reno Monday, Otis Wallace stood warm among the crowd waiting in line for a hot lunch at the newly opened St. Vincent’s Dining Room downtown. A carpenter when the odd job comes his way, Wallace, 58, has been making use of the brand new facilities for the homeless and working poor in Reno. He sleeps most nights in the Men’s Drop-In Center on Record Street, which opened Nov. 22, and he eats most lunches across the street at St. Vincent’s.
So why did you come here?
‘Cause I’m broke. I ain’t got no money. You got to come someplace to get something to eat.
The carpenter thing doesn’t quite make it?
It’s off and on. It slows down in the wintertime.
What do you think is the biggest need for yourself around the wintertime?
Well, a place to eat and some shelter.
Do you also spend the night here sometimes?
Yeah, they got the place across the street—the men’s shelter.
Did you ever go to the old one?
Yeah, the “bug house"?
What do you think of the new place?
Oh, it’s nice.
I hear they have nice showers.
Oh yeah, they got nice showers, nice toilets and a bunch more of them than they had before. The old place wasn’t so hot. If you had to go to the bathroom in the morning, you had to wait half-an-hour to get in there. But this one here, they’ve got plenty of showers and toilets.
People have their ideas about who uses shelters. What do you think is the biggest misconception about you or homelessness?
I don’t know. A lot of guys really don’t try. The more they get, the more they want. For a guy who’s out there trying, trying to work, it’s hard because some of these guys, they don’t care. That’s my opinion. I try to work every day that I can. I try to go up to Casual Labor every morning at like 6 o’clock. You got to sign up.
What is Casual Labor?
It’s run by the state. They got like a coffee can you draw numbers from. You have from 1 to 90. Then they go down the list. People will come in for yard work, carpentry, furniture jobs.
What do they pay you there?
It depends on the job. Usually anywhere from $8 to $12 an hour. That’s like the standard.
Are you originally from Reno?
Born and raised in Chicago. So the winter’s here ain’t nothin'.
What do they feed you here?
It depends. Mondays, it’s usually hot dogs and beans. You know, it’s something to eat, something to fill the stomach.
Do they have dinner here, as well?
No, just lunch. I guess they’re supposed to start serving breakfast, lunch and dinner next month.
That’d be great. What do you do for breakfast and dinner?
Over there at the men’s shelter they have milk and doughnuts. They give you that every morning. Helps out a lot. On better days when it’s nicer out, you won’t see so many of these people here.