Voting, Homelessness, and Gentrification

I live in Reno, Nevada, a city that was hit very hard by the Great Recession and has turned around over the last few years with an explosion of gentrification. The city is in a valley between the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and more smaller ranges to the East. The city is at a point where the valley has been mostly filled in, meaning that any additional urban sprawl will have to take place in valleys outside the main Reno/Sparks area. Consequently, prices have risen in the valley, driven by a limited supply, limited ability to spread, and an influx of new residents from California and neighboring states. At the same time that the city is gentrifying, new developments and new economic programs built on tech and outdoor tourism are changing the local landscapes. New trendy hotels are being built and large hotel casinos are being turned into condominiums and apartments.
Caught-up in the city’s transformation are the homeless shelters. The main area where homeless shelters have been concentrated downtown is transforming into a trendy place with local breweries and new restaurants. It is close to the still somewhat new baseball stadium and is close to an area where the University of Nevada, Reno is currently expanding student housing. This has put pressure on city leaders to clean-up the area, which means pushing out the homeless who have come to know the area as a place where they can find shelter and a meal.
“The very poor are a tiny minority,” writes Christopher Jencks in The Homeless, “and they hardly ever vote. Citizens who want the poor to live as far away as possible are a large majority, and they vote regularly. That leaves the poorest of the poor with nowhere to go.”
This quote from Jencks accurately sums up the current situation regarding the homeless in my home town. Rumos I have heard are that the Gospel Mission my wife and I volunteer at to serve the homeless will have to move and the building it occupies will likely be demolished for new hotels in the near future. I think this is a good economic move for the city, our ballpark, and the area around the stadium. Reno is a town that has always been in the shadow of Las Vegas as a less glitzy, downscale version of sin city. Many people want to reimagine Reno as something better, cleaner, and more attractive to the outside world than a sad version of Vegas. However, our homeless who rely on the shelter and know they can depend on the area for a place to eat and sleep are going to be pushed further away. A new, much larger, homeless shelter was recently built, but it is several miles down the road in a somewhat hard to access part of town next to the busiest freeway interchange. It was people with resources who vote that decided the homeless needed to go and that they would be pushed to one of the least attractive parts of town. The homeless, without any power themselves, certainly didn’t chose to be even further marginalized and outcast from a city that wants to ignore their existence.

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