The debate between mayoral candidates was revealing, particularly on the homeless issue. Incumbent Hillary Schieve has been criticized for being insensitive to homeless needs, but her opponent made her look kindly.
“You move them on the outskirts in the county,” Eddie Lorton said. “Give them bus passes so then they’re more likely to get into programs so they can get back into life and get on their feet.”
He said he would close the downtown homeless shelter and move its residents to the city’s outskirts where they will be away from the temptations of downtown, whatever that means. He did not explain how he would enforce this movement of the homeless.
It would be nice to have a little historical perspective here. Reno went through years of searching for a site for a homeless shelter. A site would be announced, then canceled, time after time.
On one occasion, a news conference was held at the city industrial yard behind Fisherman’s Park, where it was explained that this would be the site. Among those in reluctant attendance was Mayor Bruce Breslow of Sparks, who explained his reticence. Sparks does not have a homeless problem, he said. Sparks police simply drive homeless people to Reno. That was his approach to the problem, akin to Lorton driving them to the county line.
But homeless people are like any others. They decide where they congregate. It’s why some of the sites that were announced and then canceled didn’t work. Homeless people need to be where it is easiest to get to job interviews, which means downtown where the city bus depot is, and, indeed, that was where the homeless shelter was finally built. One of Lorton’s temptations of downtown, after all, is central public transportation to many parts of the community. And that long-ago Fisherman’s Park location was right across the street from the state mental hospital where the state recently offered buildings for homeless use, so no one should get excited about it too quickly, since it would move people away from public transportation.
Of course, to those who do not see homeless people as job seekers, it doesn’t matter where they are shuttled.
It’s easier to disparage homeless than to propose solutions, and it’s particularly hard for municipal candidates to propose remedies to what is a national problem. But many of today’s working poor are yesterday’s homeless, and local officials need to do what they can. Lorton was not wrong when he said Schieve bulldozed residential motels. The problem was that she was determined to move ahead with those demolitions without knowing what would happen to the displaced residents.
All of this is by way of saying that the homeless problem is nearly unsolvable in communities where there is a tradition of helping the poor. It is even more difficult where there is not, or even resistance to it, as in Nevada. For Lorton to say he has the magic answer to the problem after several city councils and mayors in the last 40 years have broken their picks on it should be taken with a grain of salt.
When a candidate starts talking about making hard sacrifices and unpopular decisions on the homeless, then will be the time to start listening seriously.