Developed by Nico Colombant, one of the Reynolds School of Journalism’s own professors, the Our Town Reno collective gives others insight on important issues happening right in the Biggest Little City. This local multimedia collective focuses on establishing social media pages with regular content, audio stories, web videos and documentaries about poverty, homelessness, gentrification, displacement and street art within the community.
Our Town Reno recently started a three event series that all embody the spirit of a live journalism event. This live journalism concept focuses on people testifying their stories about homelessness, the destruction of motels, the disappearance of public space, the lack of affordable housing and more. This idea is meant to stray away from interviewing and give the speakers a chance to share their experiences in a more real, straightforward way.
For Colombant, this idea came about from a documentary that he had done with Kari Barber called “Invisible Girl,” which was about the Eddy House. The Eddy House is a drop-in center for homeless and at-risk youth, with a goal of promoting self-sufficiency and empowerment along with access to basic needs and other resources.
“When I did the documentary, I felt that I should continue with these topics so I decided to do a website. I noticed a lot of the students at the journalism school were doing some of their first stories about the homeless and then they would stop reporting about the homeless,” Colombant explained. “I thought I would also do the website as an educational experience for students so that’s why a lot of the reporters for Our Town Reno are students. It is an educational opportunity for them to report about issues relating to housing, poverty, issues that aren’t always attractive to young people, but that are very important in our society to report about.”
On Thursday, Nov. 1, people gathered around the Desert Rose Inn to give the microphone to motel residents in the area, whose voices aren’t often heard. “Who Does the City Belong To?” gave these residents the opportunity to speak on the frustration that comes along with the city trend of motels being torn down, thus giving a only a few other affordable housing options. For the last few years, this has been a frequently-discussed issue and has even been brought up by the candidates of this year’s election.
“This is a very important issue in Reno for many reasons. We thought of an event where we gave the platform to motel residents for once, because a lot of media reports will talk about motels, but we never hear from the motel residents themselves.” Colombant said.
Accompanied under the spotlights with just a microphone, speakers told their truths and expressed great passion about this particular issue. Seeing parts of the city being demolished brought about many questions involving the people in charge of these decisions and, more importantly, what it means for the futures of themselves as well as others affected.
Many of the speakers had different perspectives and experiences, but they all were connected by their frustrations with these motels being taken away. Hearing these motel residents speak freely and unapologetically has rarely been seen, and gave others on the outside of the situation a true glimpse into their views.
Intertwining all of these stories showcased the relevancy of this crisis and why motels have been a crucial part of their lives. Corey Mcdowell shared her experiences having to rely on motels when she was a homeless youth and throughout her time at the university. Sharing her perspective as a mom and a teacher, Jocelyn Diaz described what it is like for a family to live in a motel room because of the city’s affordable housing crisis. A spoken word performance by Donald Griffin revealed that motel rooms had been crucial to his rehabilitation into the world after tragedy and addiction.
Other avenues beside just speaking were also introduced to the event. A spoken word poem by Donald Griffin and Wendy Wigglesworth were standouts, as they expressed their feelings about this situation in a creative way that stuck with the audience. In between speakers, videos by Our Town Reno were also shown. “Incarnations of Ourselves” shared the story of Joyce Kay Cowdin, who had lived in other motels that had been demolished and described having to always rush to find new shelter. “An Ode to Motel Life” dove into Reno’s complicated relationship with motels.
Overall, this event exposed this crisis to many who were initially unfamiliar with the importance that motels have in terms of adjustment periods for people who cannot afford to live anywhere else. The mission that Our Town Reno had for bringing about awareness was very successful and hopefully opened the doors for more citizens to listen to the people who have been greatly affected.