This opinion column was submitted by Alex Stettinski, the executive director of the Downtown Reno Partnership.
Ever since its creation in 2018, the Downtown Reno Partnership has balanced the many interests of downtown. We work closely with businesses. With government agencies. With residents of luxury high-rise condominiums. With residents of the streets.
The sudden arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March dramatically upset that balance. The Downtown Reno Partnership and the many groups that have a stake in the success of downtown are making progress toward restoration of the balance, but the work is particularly challenging.
The pandemic disrupted daily life through Reno, and the disruption hit especially hard in the 120 blocks served by the Downtown Reno Partnership. Casinos went dark; restaurants and boutiques shuttered their doors. Professionals worked from home rather than downtown offices. Visitors rushed home. Homeless people who had spent their days and nights at shelters and services on Record Street, a few blocks east of downtown, were turned back to the streets when shelters were forced to honor the new distancing regulations — making the main shelter, which was already bursting at its seams, even more insufficient.
A temporary nighttime shelter for homeless people was established within a few days at the Reno Events Center — right in the heart of downtown — but people who spent their nights at the shelter were required to leave in the morning. With nowhere else to go, they spent their days on downtown sidewalks.
The 18 Ambassadors employed by the Downtown Reno Partnership were designated as essential workers and stayed on the job. They distributed flyers to inform homeless people of available services. They picked up trash — 20,000 pounds from March through July alone — and helped disinfect public places. As businesses began to open, the Ambassadors and the Downtown Reno Partnership got out the word about restaurants that offered delivery or stores that provided curbside pickup.
When casinos reopened in early June, visitors began to arrive, and a few professionals and shop owners trickled back to their workplaces downtown, the challenges of balancing the many interests in downtown obviously became greater. And it’s all the greater because the necessary balance was lost during the pandemic shutdown.
Our Ambassadors continue to play a key role in the restoration of balance. In the past 12 months alone, Ambassadors successfully connected 33 once-homeless people with the support they needed to move into long-term treatment and housing. They referred hundreds of homeless people to shelters and other services. They dealt with thousands of downtown nuisances — more than 700 abandoned shopping carts, for instance — and resolved thousands of minor issues so that the Reno Police could focus on more serious issues.
The creation of a new temporary homeless shelter facility on East Fourth Street — a shelter that meets the public health standards required by the pandemic — is another step toward the restoration of balance in downtown Reno. From the start, no one believed that a homeless shelter in the Reno Events Center represented anything other than an emergency short-term answer. The center is used for many other events through the year, and its location is not optimal for a homeless shelter.
The reopening of the Record Street complex, reworked to meet COVID-19 standards, and the recent opening of the Our Place women and family shelter marks yet another important step toward better balance.
Through the past six months, we all have been reminded that downtown Reno is a complicated ecosystem, one composed of many groups with needs that are sometimes competing, sometimes dependent on one another.
A flourishing downtown ecosystem coordinates and respects the interests of business owners, visitors, downtown residents, property owners and the multitude of others with a stake in the success of the neighborhood.
We assure you that the Downtown Reno Partnership remains committed to restoring that balance in the heart of Reno.
Alex Stettinski is the executive director of the Downtown Reno Partnership, a nonprofit organization that manages the downtown Reno Business Improvement District formed in June 2018.
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