View from the fray

Making homeless history

Most poignant moment of the week: The brief second after every Reno City Council member and the mayor had opined on the question of discarding a Kuenzli Street location for a homeless services center. In that second, the room was still. Homeless service providers were already counting up votes in their heads. Councilman Dave Aiazzi had formed the motion to withdraw an application to proceed with the Kuenzli location.

A “dump-Kuenzli” vote left the council with only one option—to proceed with negotiations for lease of land on Sage Street. The Sage Street location had been nearly accepted by another council in 1995. Over the past 15 years, dozens of other locations have been considered. At first glance, two months ago, some council members thought that Kuenzli looked pretty decent. And, after all, the Sage Street location is in a rough industrial wasteland, near Reno Disposal and a cement outfit.

But nobody wants the homeless shelter in his back yard, including folks in the Kuenzli area. That, it turns out, includes the entire health care apparatus that is the Washoe Medical Center and Ken Zeal, owner of A-1 Radiator, who also owns most of the land upon which such a facility would be built. Zeal reminded the council Tuesday that he’s not selling. In fact, he threatened the council, it would cost the city something like $3.7 million to pay the costs of moving him off the site.

To top it off, many more zoning and planning hoops needed to be jumped through before achieving lift-off on Kuenzli.

“Fifteen years to make a decision is too long,” said Rev. Bob Buchanan of Our Lady of Snows, a Catholic church. “The message of the day is please don’t delay. Pick a site.”

Members of the Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless wasted no time in letting the council know that they were putting their full support behind the Sage Street site.

When the folks who work with the needy day after day tell you what’s going to work, who’s going to argue?

Three council members argued. In explaining her opposition, councilwoman Toni Harsh emotionally recounted her immersion in the homeless issue, visits to other cities and trips to the sites under consideration.

Councilman Pierre Hascheff said he was opposed to the move for procedural reasons. “We have people on both sides of the issue,” he said. “I think we should hear land use issues.”

Councilwoman Sherrie Doyle, expressed concern for the interests of Fourth Street business owners and compassion for people who should not have to endure living on Sage Street because, and forgive me if you’ve heard this one: “It sends the message that the homeless are just as high up as garbage. We’ve never asked them where they would like to be.”

A woman behind me replied softly, “Oh yes, we have.”

Still, the four other council members read the writing on the walls. To the joy and applause of those gathered, council members Aiazzi, Dave Rigdon, Jessica Sferrazza Hogan and the mayor approved ditching Kuenzli and, in effect, moving forward with Sage Street.

It was a beautiful, historic thing.

"Oh my God," said one woman breathlessly. "It’s finally over."