Sometime between Monday night and Tuesday night last week, a man froze to death on a bike path in Sparks. His death was preventable, and the solutions are available. It is time for the City of Sparks to step up and make those solutions a reality.

In 2017, the number of homeless people who died while on the streets in Washoe County increased 23 percent from 2016. While not all of their deaths were caused by exposure, our houseless neighbors die far younger and at far higher rates than their housed counterparts. It is without doubt that nearly every one of these deaths was exacerbated by the condition of not having housing. And as our housing crisis continues to worsen, Reno-Sparks’ homeless population is skyrocketing.

Since even before the beginning of winter, the primary shelter, the overflow shelter, and the emergency heated tent spearheaded by ACTIONN have been full almost every single night. The first night of a planned third emergency overflow shelter is also expected to be full. According to established case law, it is illegal to evict encampments unless there is somewhere else for the encampment’s residents to go.

At the moment, those alternatives do not exist. That did not stop Sparks Police Department from evicting encampments along the Truckee River just prior to a major storm moving into our area

It is very likely that the man who lost his life was part of the group that was forced out of their only safe housing. This eviction came directly prior to snow storms and plummeting temperatures. With the structures that he relied on to keep warm destroyed and little recourse for walking across two towns in order to get into what was a full shelter, he died cold and alone.

The City of Sparks runs no shelters. All three current permanent and temporary shelters are spearheaded and run by the City of Reno, and in response to this tragedy, the City is currently working with ACTIONN on setting up another emergency shelter until temperatures rise again.
The City of Sparks is failing in their responsibility to address our housing crisis. They have chosen criminalization over solutions, and a man dead because of that decision. It is time that they choose proven solutions: provide a local revenue source to address the lack of low-income and affordable housing that is causing the number of the people on the streets to skyrocket.

A supplemental government services tax could be implemented with only three votes from the Washoe County Commission. That money could be used throughout the county to provide shelter services, permanent supportive housing, and a Community Housing Trust Fund to build and maintain low-income and affordable housing units. As our housing crisis continues to spiral out of control, our homeless population will only continue to grow. It is time that the City of Sparks and Sparks Police Department
step up to demand real solutions, rather than criminalizing homelessness in a way that directly results in the deaths of our neighbors. They should be working with the City of Reno and the County Commission to move this solution forward and to be seeking other proactive solutions.

Until our local leaders recognize the lack of housing as a core tenant of houselessness, we can only expect more deaths.

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