Keeping an Eye on Our Homeless Population

RENO, NV - On a typical morning, Officer Jason Stallcop has said 'Good Morning' to several dozen people by the time most people in the Reno-Sparks area have pressed the snooze button. But it's not your average greeting.

Officer Stallcop is part of a group known as Community Action Officers. His job is to check on homeless camps in the downtown area. Since it is illegal for homeless people to camp in certain areas of the city, it's officer Stallcop's job to make sure they are awake and moving on.

"It's not like we immediately come in here and rip them out of their camps," he said. "There's fewer camps because it's cold. There's a camp I wake up every morning, it's usually along the railroad track," he said. "Every morning, I tell them they can't stay there. The next step I could do is take them to jail, but at the same time, I don't think that will utilize what the purpose of this program is."

This program is known as HELP, or Homeless Evaluation Liaison Program. The goal is to get the homeless people into the overflow shelters and services that can help them turn their lives around.

Most people know about the overflow shelter on Fourth Street, but at night, about 45 homeless people can go to a heated warehouse on Timber Way to sleep. The warehouse is managed by Volunteers of America, but because of the cold temperatures, they are filled to capacity every night.

"They have to open up the warming rooms, which are basically cafeterias," Officer Stallcop said. "The problem is, they can't lie down in those rooms. They have to sit up."

But despite their best efforts, Officer Stallcop says there are people like Jerome Austin, the homeless man found dead last week in Whitaker Park, who are service resistant.

"For whatever reason they don't take advantage of the services we have available," he said.

For some, it's a personal reason.

"We have a couple who have been together a long time, but they're not legally married and they don't have any kids, so they can't go to the family shelter," Officer Stallcop said. "Because they aren't married if they went to a shelter, they would have to separate into men and women shelters. So they would rather be cold together than apart and warm."

Officer Stallcop said he's not quite sure why Austin, known as 'Clemmings' to the officers, didn't take advantage of the services, but he noted that they rarely had a problem with Austin.

"He was one of those guys who, he took care of himself," Officer Stallcop said. "He didn't want to be a drain on this city. He wasn't ever really arrested."

With the cold temperatures, the main concern is preventing deaths. But the ultimate goal with this program is to help the homeless turn their lives around.

"In an ideal world, as long as everyone utilizes the services that are offered, and they completed the programs, they honestly could get themselves back on their feet."

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