Click here to see a proposed homeless plan for Reno.

PDF: Homeless Plan

HOMELESSNESS

Reno’s increase in homeless-related problems is negatively impacting tourists and new business, increasing our crime rate, and forcing Reno to unnecessarily spend millions of dollars each year.

The City’s newly formed Business Improvement District (BID), a 120-block area in downtown Reno, was created, possibly illegally, by Reno’s City Council in an attempt to solve downtown’s problems.

The BID assessment funds the Downtown Reno Partners (DRP), a private nonprofit organization called a 501(c)6 and additional police services.

The BID assessments, in addition to the standard assessments already paid by all Reno property owners, will NOT solve Reno’s homeless-related issues.  It WILL allow these problems to increase, as evidenced in every other city where BIDs and the private, nonprofit organizations advocating for the BIDS have been established.

QOL-Reno’s solution to downtown’s homeless problems

  • Cancel Reno’s 10-year contract with the BID/DRP and eliminate the $2.3 million per year of assessments
  • Change the management of Reno’s Homeless Shelter to require clients to be sober, employed, seek mental health counseling (when needed), and obey the law.
  • Require the Reno Police Department to fully and fairly enforce the city Municipal Code

HOMELESSNESS

Living on the streets is dangerous.

Crime, disease, mental illness, and addictions eventually claim the lives of those refusing the many readily available homeless services and programs offered to the homeless. Real compassion requires that the issues causing homelessness be addressed. Simply housing individuals without addressing the causes is not success and does not rebuild homeless lives.

A majority of Reno’s homeless services are available near the 4th & Record St “campus.” According to HUD funding program requirements, employees and service providers at the Volunteers of American HUD-funded shelter are restricted from placing any behavior requirements on clients staying at the shelter. Supportive services such as drug/alcohol, mental health, and employment counseling may only be offered to clients, never required. The chronically homeless have repeatedly refused services, instead choosing to remain living on the streets using crime and panhandling to support their chosen self-destructive lifestyle.

Individuals’ misguided attempts to alleviate the suffering of the chronically homeless by giving money to those begging at intersections, parking lots, and tourist locations harm the community as well as the chronically homeless individuals. Communities across the country are dealing with elevated numbers of misdemeanor crimes including car, house, and business burglaries, shoplifting, theft, aggressive panhandling, and illegal camping in public spaces. Public parks and spaces once enjoyed by a community are now riddled with used needles and drug paraphernalia, human feces, and literal tons of trash brought in by the vagrants. Businesses experiencing growing losses due to homeless theft and crime pass the costs on to consumers or eventually close their doors and leave towns and neighborhoods.

City councils and county boards, attempting to solve the homeless problems with HUD-funded programs, are not succeeding. Even given copious funding, affordable or free public housing will never be available in sufficient quantities to house individuals unwilling to exchange destructive behaviors for productive ones. Public policies, programs, and code and law enforcement, together, could provide the motivation necessary for the service-resistant chronically homeless to engage with supportive services. When politicians, governing bodies, and the public demand a new approach, progress will be seen. Communities must replace the failing, unproductive solutions presently in place, not duplicate the so-called “best practices” or “research-based” programs established in various cities across the country. If these best practice, research-based programs were truly successful, the San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities’ homeless disasters wouldn’t exist.

Resources dedicated to helping the homeless are substantial and steadily increasing. Until it is admitted that these resources, both federal and private, are doing little more than developing a burgeoning “homeless industrial complex,” homeless populations will increase as will the demand for ever increasing funding.

The success or failure of a homeless program should be measured by the number of individuals who have eliminated destructive behaviors that placed them on the streets initially. Success should not be measured by the number homeless individuals who walked through the program’s doors, or how many individuals are now in subsidized or free dwellings. Without removing the destructive behaviors, the negative impact of homelessness on communities and individuals will continue and the financial burden of caring for homeless dependents will increase. Just look to the oft cited “success” of Seattle where funding levels have increased exponentially, as well as the harm to the community.

Without verifiable, quantifiable results, funding should be discontinued, yet counties and states throwing funds at uninspiring, ineffective programs that do little more than employ individuals in the homeless industry. Awarding increased funding to ineffective programs is irresponsible use of taxpayer and donor contributions. Present program funding policies have created an incentive to increase homeless numbers by awarding higher funding amounts to programs citing higher homeless numbers.

Individuals wanting healthy communities will get involved and speak up. They will demand greater accountability from service providers, greater responsibility from government officials in disbursing taxpayers’ funds and addressing homeless crime, greater creativity in establishing effective homeless programs, and more courage to step away from the false promises of best practice, research-based ideologies.


Get rid of downtown Reno’s business improvement district

by Paul D. White
Reno Gazette Journal, Jan. 15, 2019

For years, Reno’s City Council has sought ways to fix the troubled 120-block area that is downtown’s core. The council recently decided to convince downtown property owners to approve establishment of a Business Improvement District. The council’s effort was successful because they misleadingly promoted an idea that double-taxes downtown property owners and has failed to bring about meaningful improvement in any city where it’s been tried. That includes the BID program I endured for eight years in another community.

BID projects involve forming a private, nonprofit foundation and then hiring it to provide “extra” services to a targeted city area. BIDs require major long-term funding. The council secured the $2.3 million per year needed to implement Reno’s BID by collaborating with a few large downtown property owners so they could charge all property owners annual assessment fees.

The council passed their BID proposal without a majority of downtown property owners supporting it for two reasons:

1) The distributed petition only allowed for “yes” votes.

2) Votes of large property owners were given more weight than the votes of smaller property owners, enabling the BID proposal to win a majority of the votes without having to win a majority of property owners’ support.

After successfully rigging the BID approval process, the council signed a 10-year contract with a locally organized foundation calling itself the Downtown Reno Partnership. DRP committed to using the annual assessment fees (which can be increased 5 percent per year with no approval of property owners) to provide “extra” services that would make downtown Reno great again.

The “extra” services DRP will provide are redundant, superfluous and legally questionable, and won’t address the real issues causing downtown’s problems.

Redundant

DRP will remove trash, graffiti, and litter from the BID area. This is not an “extra service”. City Hall already uses regular tax dollars to provide these services.

Superfluous

DRP will provide the BID area with 14 on-the-street ambassadors. These individuals (at an average cost of $50,000 each per year) will walk or pedal through downtown with no police powers, “engaging with those chronically sleeping on private property,” and “(engaging) with visitors and tourists who need help finding activities, directions or information about downtown Reno.”

Legally questionable

DRP’s assessment funding includes $725,000 to disperse extra police coverage to downtown areas where DRP believes they’re needed. A private organization will use coerced funds to purchase and direct the services of a public police force?

Additional BID documentation (and this author’s firsthand experience) show that downtown property owners will also be funding DRP’s partisan advocacy for social issues and public policies based on their personal political views.

Reno’s downtown problems don’t result from a lack of friendly directions to good restaurants. Downtown is not overrun with chronic vagrants and the mentally ill because they don’t know where to get help. Downtown’s red-hot mess has two primary causes: The city’s mismanaged homeless shelter supplies free beds, food and clothing while requiring no sobriety, employment, law-abiding behavior or mental health counseling from its clients. It is little more than an attractive nuisance, bringing to Reno’s streets a growing number of vagrant-by-choice scofflaws from across the nation who hide their parasitic and/or criminal actions behind a ‘homeless” label.

Reno Police refuse to fully and impartially enforce the municipal code with regard to the illegal behavior of vagrants-by-choice. The result is a brazen disregard for the law by this population that endangers Reno residents and impacts our quality of life.

DRP will make no meaningful contribution to improving either of these two causes of downtown decay. DRP will accomplish for our downtown the same thing BIDs have accomplished in every other city they’ve operated in. Feel-good photo ops and overhyped results will be used as a disinformation buffer zone between the public’s desire to know the truth about downtown problems and the City Council hiding the fact that this issue is out of control and they have no idea how to fix it.

Reno’s irresponsible 10-year contract with DRP should be legally challenged and rescinded. Replacing DRP with strong, fair law enforcement and an accountable homeless shelter program would negate the need for extra cops, extra services, extra assessments — and the BID.

Paul White is a member of Quality of Life-Reno (www.QOL-Reno.org), a grassroots citizens’ group, and has worked with the homeless for over 40 years. He welcomes feedback at white.pauld@gmail.com.