US: Nevada tent cities rise in shadow of casinos

marksimonbrown mark at
Wed Oct 22 09:44:49 BST 2008

Nevada tent cities rise in shadow of casinos
 Hit hard by foreclosures, growing number of homeless
by Tim Harper
Date: Oct 17, 2008

RENO, Nev.â€" It's a long way from Wall Street to the rail tracks on 4th
Street in this casino town, but this is where the road is leading for
an increasing number of Americans.

Here, in the shadow of the giant casinos which mark the downtown
landscape of this northern Nevada gambling mecca, as many as 150
people lived in a tent city until last weekend, one of a number of
emergency shanty towns that sprang up in U.S. cities this past summer.

With winter approaching, Reno's tent city was dismantled last weekend,
but some homeless are still trying to find shelter.

There are fears many more tent cities will rise next spring as more
homes and jobs are lost in this country, a grim sign of the
inheritance awaiting a new president, Barack Obama or John McCain.

What stunned officials here was that those in this makeshift shelter,
which sprouted almost overnight, were not California migrants bringing
their mental health or substance abuse problems to Nevada.

Seven in 10 were from the area, where the housing market has cratered,
the tourism industry is in the dumps and construction jobs have

These tent cities have been compared to Depression-era Hoovervilles,
the shantytowns of the homeless named for the president of the era,
Herbert Hoover.

Reno is not alone.

Similar tent cities have sprung up in Seattle, San Diego, Fresno,
Calif.; Columbus, Ohio and Chattanooga, Tenn. In Seattle, where as
many as 150 homeless persons have been moving around to thwart
authorities, they have dubbed their community Nickelsville, named for
Mayor Greg Nickels.

"It was the damndest thing I've ever gone through,'' said 44-year-old
Dan Foley who lived three weeks in Reno's tent city.

"You couldn't sleep at night. There was no curfew, no quiet time.

"Everyone was drinking or coughing or getting high or talking about
getting high.''

Foley is thinking of heading to San Diego, maybe linking up with a
brother in North Carolina, in search of work.

"This is a casino town. If you're not hooked up with them, you're
dead,'' he says.

On this day, Jessica Seitz, a 29-year-old mother of four, was looking
for whatever she could get for her children at a second-hand store
near the tent city site.

She and her husband, Matt, moved to Reno from nearby Carson City in
May because they could no longer afford the rent and the gas needed
for the 30-minute commute.

"We're trying to make it,'' she said as she strapped nine-year-old
Alyssa, seven-year-old Cameron, four-year-old Autumn and two-year-old
Logan into a borrowed van.

"My husband works his butt off, but he's making $12 an hour in a
warehouse. You can't keep going as a family of six on $12 per hour.''

Jodi Royal-Goodwin, Reno's community reinvestment manager, has seen
her city become the poster child for the homeless this summer, but she
knows she is not alone.

"They (tent cities) are all over the place,'' she says.

"I've heard the comparisons to Hooverville, but we are at 8 per cent
unemployment here now. Hooverville was 25 per cent unemployment.
Heaven help us all if we do get to that point.''

She says, for now, she believes there are enough shelters to house the
homeless during Reno's cold winters.

She has 158 beds for men, another 60 in an overflow shelter.

The city has another 50 beds in a women's shelter and another 102
family beds for those with children who are homeless.

Nearly 61 per cent of local and state homeless coalitions say they've
experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began
in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Patrick O'Bryan has been the head of the Reno police department's
crisis intervention program for 20 years. He says he's never seen
anything like this.

"Unless some type of miracle happens and we, as Americans, start
investing in humans first and other things second, I wouldn't be
surprised to be facing this again next spring the way things are
going,'' he said.

This state is the country's per capita leader in homelessness. It also
ranks with the worst in alcohol abuse â€" and a city where the bars stay
open 24 hours is no place to try to dry out â€" and suicides.

"Part of this is the long-held expectation that Nevada was somehow to
be bomb-proof,'' O'Bryan said. "Historically, we have had a number of
entry-level jobs that don't require a great deal of skill.''

But the would-be busboys, cocktail waitresses, landscapers and day
labourers are finding there is nothing here any longer.

Between May 2006 and May 2008, says Nevada demographer Jeff
Hardcastle, this state shed 15,000 construction jobs alone.

Nevada, like other states, is also finding that homeless Vietnam vets
are now joined by homeless veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"Nevada is getting hammered,'' O'Bryan said. "They're here, it doesn't
look good, but we had nowhere to send those people.''

It started with the city providing shade and picnic tables for the
homeless during the summer. Then they started staying overnight.

So, in turn for promises of job searches, the city registered the tent
city denizens and provided security for them in the parking lot before
the tent city was dismantled.

George Stewart, a 43-year-old California native whose downward spiral
came after the roofing company at which he worked closed and he could
not survive on part-time work, spent a frigid night in a parking lot
last weekend. He is trying to put together $122 to get himself and his
38-year-old wife Joyce back to their Redding, Calif., home after
spending six weeks in the tent city.

Those still working and have homes are hurting, too.

"Every day it gets just a little slower,'' said Reno cabbie Joe
Flatley, 64. He said he's earning $6,000 to $7,000 less this year than
he did last year.

"I think they can put a fork in this town,'' he said.

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