Last fall, we wrote a staff editorial about the problem of homelessness in this community. We decried the marginalization of Reno’s most vulnerable residents. We condemned the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that the city’s influential residents displayed toward the homeless population — the attitude that led to the heartless destruction of encampments and gentrification. We called for city and state officials to stop treating the homeless as a nuisance to be hidden away and start addressing the root causes of homelessness.
A year later, nothing has changed.
Another October has come, and with it another instance of Reno’s continued mistreatment of the homeless community.
This is Reno, a local news and events site, reported on Sept. 30 that 68 benches were removed from downtown. The reason for this seemingly innocuous act was to prevent homeless residents from resting and sleeping on the benches, as well as to prevent them from “panhandling.” The decision to remove the benches was spurred by what This is Reno called “a deluge of complaints” from residents, tourists and business owners.
And as we would by now expect, city leaders bought into these complaints and the insidious rhetoric that comes with them. Complaints about having to walk past a sleeping homeless person, or being asked for spare change do not stem from a legitimate fear of harm. Being bothered by the mere presence of the homeless stems instead from the tendency to otherize and dehumanize those who are caught in unfortunate circumstances.
Rather than humanly addressing the complaints in a way that would not adversely affect the individuals who rely on public structures for shelter, city officials chose to remove those structures and pander to the prejudice of those who feel that the homeless are beneath them.
In This is Reno’s coverage of the bench removal, city spokesperson Matt Brown stated the remodeling was done because ‘The city at large had complained enough that it became a nuisance.’
It’s worth noting that Section 8.22.035 of Reno’s Municipal Code defines “nuisance” as “That which is injurious to health, or injurious, indecent and offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, or is against the interest of public morals, decency, safety, peace and order.”
This is how Brown, whose job is to speak on behalf of the city’s government, has effectively described a segment of the population. Let that sink in for a moment. Human beings are categorized as “indecent” and “offensive to the senses.”
According to analysis by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the overall homeless population in Nevada has increased by 1.9 percent between 2014 and 2015, while the number of homeless residents without shelter has increased by 11.4 percent in the same amount of time. Clearly, homelessness is a problem that is not going away. Even though Reno represents only a portion of these statistics, and even though it has dedicated some resources to combating the problem, more must still be done.
The fact remains that the homeless population in this city is shamefully underserved, and it does not look to be improving. The city’s budget brief for the 2016 fiscal year provides an overview of what money is going to be spent on. “Homelessness” is not mentioned in the document a single time. Much is said about better serving the community, of making the community more safe and livable. What city officials have neglected to do is include the homeless as members of the community. To allow this behavior to continue is unacceptable.
We have said all this before, and we will continue to speak out against the dehumanization of this city’s most vulnerable population until it is no longer a problem that plagues our community.
The Sagebrush Editorial Baord can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.