Home>Articles>Following Reno and Sparks, Washoe County Approves Homeless ‘Camping Ban’

Following Reno and Sparks, Washoe County Approves Homeless ‘Camping Ban’

Commissioners Clara Andriola, Alexis Hill and Mariluz Garcia voted in favor, while Commissioners Mike Clark and Jeanne Herman voted against the measure

By Megan Barth, March 27, 2024 11:30 am

Following the City of Reno and Sparks, the Washoe County Commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, approved an ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to sleep in a car or tent, or park an RV on county owned property. Those who violate the ordinance will only be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor if they deny services. Other provisions in the ordinance prohibit obstructing sidewalks, roads, and other rights of way, and using any outdoor fires or portable open flame devices “in an unsafe manner.”

The ordinance further prohibits camping within 1000 feet of the Truckee River in order to preserve the cleanliness of the river and prevent polluting the counties main water source.

Refuse from homeless encampment along the Truckee River

After two hours of public comment, a majority of which came from various citizens and progressive organizations who rallied against the ordinance, Commissioners Clara Andriola, Alexis Hill and Mariluz Garcia voted in favor, while Commissioners Mike Clark and Jeanne Herman voted against the measure.

Commissioner Clark raised concerns that the public defender was not present at the meeting. “It’s going to be the public defender and alternate public defender defending these people because they are indigent, because they are on the streets, and because they don’t have a house or any assets,” Clark said, adding that the public defender’s office “needs to weigh in on what we should be doing before we make a logical decision.”

Commissioner Herman referred to a safe lot that could potentially be used for camping. “I don’t know why we haven’t come up with a better idea to take care … an alternate place that is safe,” she said. “Used to be in the old days there were churches, and they would take people in and help them get a leg up.”

“Vehicular homelessness is an area, it’s really a gap in services in our region,” Commissioner Garcia said, and suggested a pilot program for safe parking. “I think that the county in partnership with our faith-based community could make some strides in that area.” Garcia voted in favor of the ordinance citing complaints from her constituents regarding illegal dumping and fire hazards and noted that additional housing would solve the problem.

One faith-based progressive organization, Faith in Action, didn’t offer safe parking as a solution when their activists spoke against the measure. Chasity Martinez, an organizer with Faith in Action stated, “It is still fundamentally flawed by being a law that criminalizes people for doing things that are life sustaining.”

Taking to X (formerly Twitter), Athar Haseebullah of the Nevada ACLU promised a legal challenge. However, a legal challenge may be moot as a case that would impact the legality of the ordinance is being heard by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The City of Grants Pass, Oregon vs. Gloria Johnson cites Eighth Amendment protections from “cruel and unusual punishment” in relation to laws regulating camping on public property. A hearing is planned for April with a ruling to be issued in June or July.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s office said the goal was not to incarcerate. Chief Deputy Corey Solferino said the ordinance would put the Washoe in line with similar ordinances adopted by Reno and Sparks. “We do not want to incarcerate,” Solferino said. “We want to provide a pathway and push toward services. Some people simply aren’t ready for housing and we want to make sure they get the ability to be reformed.”

Back in August 2023, The Globe reported that the Sparks city council passed new laws for the homeless population  to “protect the public health and safety and the families and businesses that call Sparks home” said Sparks City Attorney Wes Duncan.

“We’re adding provisions to our code to prevent human habitation or people living in a vehicle on our public roadways,” said Duncan. “We’re passing an ordinance that prohibits the blocking of public sidewalks, right of ways, and our streets….In terms of homelessness, we will not let Sparks become San Francisco or the many big cities that do not enforce the law at the expense of public safety and health,” Duncan added.

According to varied reports there are an estimated 1,700 homeless in Washoe County, with 43 percent of them are over the age of 55. In FY 2023-2024, the county budget includes over $88 million for homeless services.

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Megan Barth
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