Tent City, Homeless Problem Continues to Grow

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RENO, NV - The encampment has been getting bigger since it was established almost four weeks ago. Now there may be 200 people living there.

Homeless shelter organizers say the reason is simple: there just aren't enough homeless services to meet the demand in our community. Charity leaders say while the camp seems to be working as a temporary solution, major problems are on the horizon.

On Tuesday, volunteers from the Reno-sparks Gospel Mission passed out hygiene packets, bottled water and fruit to people living in makeshift homes near the homeless shelter on Record Street. Most of the homeless residents came away with at least a toothbrush, deodorant and some soap.

The donations came from people throughout the community, but supplies are limited. The mission staff says they don't know how much longer they'll be able to help support the tent city that grows larger and larger with each passing day.

It's only been a few weeks since the tent city was established, but already, homeless residents say the encampment has become divided. They say one side is known for being dirty and violent, the other, clean and peaceful.

"But we don't know who's who. We're going to help them all. That's our obligation to the community," said Rick Redding, executive director of the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission.

He says his organization just wants to help the people who have no homes survive, regardless of the reason. But he says the tent city is a time bomb, just waiting to explode.

"Fights do break out. There have been some robberies. One of our staff members was attacked last night. And we're told security will be cut July 1st. That's a big concern for all of us. This thing is one incident away from getting really, really ugly," said Redding.

Redding says he doesn't know who would be liable if something bad were to happen, but the City of Reno, law enforcement, and shelter organizers are all aware on the growing encampment. The question is, where are the limits?

Kathleen Walker lives in the tent camp, and says it will only get bigger. She says many of the residents are just looking for a free ride.

"They don't go out and try to get work. They sit there all day. I get up every night because I work nights, but when I come back, they are still drinking and sitting there," said Walker.

She says while she appreciates the help in order to get back on her feet, the community's support of the camp may be a mistake. She says if homeless residents keep getting giveaways, they may never leave...but that's a risk that Mission Gospel organizers say they're willing to take.

"I think if giving somebody a bar of soap and an orange is encouraging homelessness, then I am guilty of it," added Redding.

Redding says city leaders are divided on the issue. He says some want to drive all the homeless people out of here for good. Others want to build fences and make this a permanent encampment where homeless people can go to feel safe. He says the tent city is a community issue...and that it's going to take a lot more than a bag of hygiene items and some fruit to solve it.

Redding says local police have been driving people out from under bridges and in parks, and actually telling them to go to the tent city. Some business owners on Fourth street are beginning to complain about the size of the encampment, as well as some of the negative aspects it brings to their area.