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Washoe County Commissioners to vote on controversial camping ban

Two sheriffs deputies stand in the foreground wearing tactical vests and sunglasses.
Bert Johnson
Washoe County Sheriff's Deputies Craig Turner (left) and Andres Silva (right), who serve on the Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement (HOPE) Team, check in with residents of an encampment on March 20, 2024.

A proposal aimed at pushing unhoused people into services is up for final approval. Law enforcement officials say it’s needed, but critics say it will make things worse.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners will decide whether to approve a proposed ban on camping on public lands during their public meeting. The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to sleep in a car or a tent, have a campfire, or park an RV on county land.

It’s a response to growing complaints about homelessness, which has reached crisis levels in recent years.

The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, which is sponsoring the proposal, says a camping ban is necessary because Reno and Sparks already have similar policies. Those have been forcing unhoused people to the margins of the county, according to Chief Deputy Corey Solferino.

“What that has done is further put a strain on our vulnerable population,” he told commissioners in February. “They’re further away from counseling, they’re further away from services, they’re further away from shelter.”

The Sheriff’s Office uses a specialized unit for homeless outreach, called the Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement (HOPE) Team. Often, deputies divert unhoused people facing citations or charges to community court, where a judge can send them to services instead of jail.

But Chasity Martinez, with Faith in Action Nevada, is concerned that adding more criminal penalties will make the situation worse.

“It’s just really kicking someone when they’re already down,” she said.

Martinez has opposed the camping ban since it was first introduced in 2022. And now that it’s up for final approval, she’s organizing a crowd to speak against it during public comment.

“This ordinance is really just a symptom of larger problems that are happening in our community around housing, and the lack thereof,” she said.

Martinez added that if elected officials really wanted to reduce homelessness in Washoe County, they should promote affordable housing and better protect renters.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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