Dedicate Land to a SafeGround in Washoe County!

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SafeGround: A legally recognized land area for use by people experiencing homelessness.

The Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE) calls on our local leaders in Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County to dedicate land to the development of a SafeGround, where unsheltered residents within our community can live without fear of criminalization, harassment, or eviction and where they could benefit from the protection of our local law enforcement agencies and local services. Ideally, there should be several locations throughout the area that are dedicated SafeGrounds.

This would allow local non-profits and caseworkers easy access to people in need and would serve as a first step towards solving homelessness in Northern Nevada. The less restrictive nature of a SafeGround allows our community to immediately respond to people newly on the street and decrease the resources required by the community. The faster someone is served, the less time they spend without housing. Individuals can be more quickly served if they can be easily found. The current situation makes that difficult because people experiencing homelessness often hide to avoid eviction and harassment.

Housing costs have skyrocketed in Washoe County, and development has removed hundreds of affordable units for our poorest neighbors. While there are a number of amazing services currently provided in the area, they have woefully inadequate capacity to serve our entire unsheltered community.

City residents have complained about people camping along the river and in city parks. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority has expressed concerns over the impact these camps without sanitation services have on the water quality of the river which provides our water. The recent increase in violence and vigilante action towards people experiencing homelessness demonstrates how vulnerable they are without protection. It is time to do something better.

A SafeGround provides a safe location for people who have fallen through the cracks of current services or have used up their time before completely stabilizing. Additionally, a SafeGround would free up bed space and resources for individuals needing more intensive interventions. 

Current research on similar programs demonstrates that a SafeGround needs to follow some basic principles in order to be successful:

  1. The Cities and County should dedicate funds to a shared hygiene area for the SafeGround, where toilets, showers, and sinks can be utilized.
  2. Dumpsters and dumpster collection should be dedicated to the area in order to allow for a clean environment.
  3. Policing of SafeGrounds should be the same as policing for any other community. Crime occurs in all communities, including the wealthiest, but crimes in poor communities are often used as excuses to withdraw funding or support. Law enforcement should protect the SafeGround and local officials should not use crime committed within the SafeGround as an excuse for closing or failing to protect these communities.
  4. The local government entities should provide liability insurance for the SafeGround through public-private partnerships.

While this will start out as a place for people to camp, over time, as resources become available, every effort should be made to introduce tiny houses, artpods, converted buses, shipping container housing, and other forms of cheap, transitional housing that will protect our neighbors experiencing homelessness from the elements. These housing solutions can be provided through both public and non-profit efforts. 

A SafeGround is not a replacement for providing permanent, supportive, and affordable housing or fully-funded shelter services. A SafeGround provides an alternate and temporary location to increase our service capacity for unsheltered community residents to live in a safe area where they have access to services and training that will provide them entry into community-building, outreach, employment, and permanent housing.