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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Studies of Society: Homeless in Reno

Although I’m a home school Mum, my profession (Social Work) forms a frame work of values and worth around psychosocial education. Heavily influenced by the social structures that create poverty, misery and disempowerment I am keen to ensure that Boy develops empathy and commitment toward helping those less fortunate than himself.

Getting to the know the community has been embedded into our home school studies of Society and Environment. Partner is going to take Boy to view an anti-postcard exhibition: images that the tourist driven town of Cairns is keen to gloss over and that the rest of us try not to see.

The following news story on homelessness has just arrived in my inbox and I considered it a fantastic opportunity for like-minded home schoolers in the Reno area. If somebody goes, could you leave me a comment please and let me know your thoughts and the learning achieved for your child.
By Jaclyn O'Malley, Saturday, February 17, 2007, Reno Gazette-Journal
They filled their cameras with photos of homeless infants and families. Some captured the friendships among the homeless. For others, their film showed isolation and exclusion.

In a rare opportunity, 40 homeless Reno citizens this week were given disposable cameras to document their lives as part of a recent city-sponsored program.

And what the 15 who returned the cameras captured on film, along with their personal stories, will be presented to the Nevada Legislature during a Monday hearing in front of the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee.

At the hearing, lawmakers will discuss a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who is asking for $20 million for local governments to use for transitional housing and support services for the homeless in the next two years.

The photos -- depicting camaraderie, buildings where the homeless receive services and a life spent looking through fences -- will be on display all week in the foyer of the Legislative Building.

"They really depict what life is like in 2007 in Nevada for a homeless person," Leslie said of the photos. "It is not confined to the stereotypical drunk person on the street corner. These pictures tell the story better than anyone could."

Reno police officer Patrick O'Bryan came up with the camera idea after watching a documentary about eight children born in an Indian brothel who were given cameras to document their lives. The city of Reno chipped in about $240 from an administrative community block grant for the cameras and the film development.

O'Bryan, who is a member of the Reno Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team, will also be testifying Monday in front of the Legislature. The Crisis Intervention Team provides outreach to the homeless and mentally ill.

"This is the homeless telling their story," O'Bryan said. "From the pictures they took, you get the idea that they feel excluded from the world; that's what it's come down to."

The homeless photographers consisted of the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, a mother of four and middle-aged men. Mingling with the photos of empty liquor bottles and shots of the homeless shelter were pictures showing camaraderie among the homeless and the clouds in the sky. But some were of the ground or of random buildings taken through fences.

Ron Montavon, 56, has been homeless since September 2005. He took many pictures of places where he gets services. One picture he took was of a sign on an empty lot near the Reno Assistance Center homeless complex on Fourth Street, The sign says that phase of the project was supposed to be done last month.

But the city is $5 million short of the nearly $12 million needed to finish it. The city council talked of making one last appeal to Washoe County, casinos and developers for donations to build a three-story shelter for families with children that would offer a medical clinic, counseling and other services. The first floor of the men's drop-in shelter, now empty, would become a women's shelter and triage center for people who are mentally ill or have substance abuse problems.

"What can I say about being homeless?," Montavon said. "I feel like being forever stuck in the Bermuda Triangle of endless misery. ... I have no one to blame for my situation but myself, but the city can do better."

He currently is sleeping at an overflow shelter in some former office buildings in Reno.

"A lot of (homeless) complain and cough, but most don't realize how good this is," he said of staying at the shelter. "The showers are cleaned once a day, but it doesn't take long for them to get messed up again. It's not the best of health conditions."

Robyn Wright, 43, known on the streets as "River Mom" took photos, too. She became homeless recently after she had to quit her job due to a hospitalization and couldn't afford a motel. She said she had nowhere to go until she found a downtown shelter. Besides the struggle of trying to find work and not having a home, she said methamphetamine abuse also contributes to the vicious cycle of homelessness.

"I see people scrimping and scraping to get a buck, and they spend it all on meth," she said. "They use it for a painkiller if they don't have Social Security, and they use it to escape reality."

Montavon and Gordon Harris, 52, added that the city's 24-hour lifestyle also contributes to the homeless problem.

"Thirty-five percent of us are homeless because we don't have identifications, 10 percent of us are alcoholics, 20 percent of us are drug addicts and the rest are gamblers," said Harris, who just recently got a copy of his birth certificate that, he said, will allow him to work again.

Leslie's bill will allow local governments to target which homeless groups, such as veterans or youths, they need to serve. She said allowing the local officials to make the decision means they are solving specific problems in their areas. She said some thoughts in the state are to build transitional apartment complexes and to use vouchers to get apartments or motel rooms.

As the Washoe County Specialty Courts coordinator, Leslie said she got the idea for her bill from mental health court.

"The bill is not a Band-Aid, it's about developing a real solution to stop the cycle of homelessness by addressing their basic needs," she said. "This idea is based on what I have seen that works. You have to get them off the streets and in a safe environment and provide them support services to address the underlying reasons they are homeless.

Once they have a place to live, the rest of their issues will be easier to tackle, she said.

While Montavon hopes the photos and their stories will influence lawmakers to pass Leslie's bill, he said he wasn't sure it was enough.

"The only way to know about being homeless is to experience it," he said. "You will see things you won't believe."

View Joclyn's blog with more pictures

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This blog is no longer kept. I am instead blogging only to Imaginif Child Protection became Serious Business