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Reno, NV. Public domain photo via Wikimedia.

By Tim McGivney

 Reno’s homeless plan will never work. Not “later.” Not after they pour millions of dollars more into it. Not ever. I know that first hand, because I was homeless and an I.V. drug user on the streets of Reno for far too long.

I’m clean and sober now, a good husband and dad and working a good job. None of that would have happened if I’d followed the Reno City Council’s homeless plan, because it does not deal with the primary issues that kept someone like me on the street. Namely, it doesn’t require the four essential things that anyone hoping to get off the street has to be willing to do:

  • Maintain sobriety
  • Seek and maintain employment
  • Live by law-abiding behavior
  • Enter mental health counseling (if needed)

Reno can’t require these four things for its homeless plan as long as they accept federal money. If the City Council refused federal funding, as the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission does, they could change that — but the city council refuses to do it, so their program continues to help almost no one. That’s why our homeless problem continues to get worse and worse.

Reno’s plan misleads people into believing that they are victims of tough times, that they’re not responsible for their situations and that they just need other people in the community to give them everything. 

Homelessness is absolutely about tough times — but the tough times are almost always caused by the homeless person’s own self-destructive habits, just like my problems were caused by my refusal to do the four things listed above.

Reno’s plan will put people who do not want to be clean and sober, employed or law-abiding into nice, clean homes paid for with tax money. The houses won’t stay nice and clean for long, though. The homeless will destroy them, and then demand that the city raise more money to buy them more new homes. If you don’t believe me, go look at the city’s homeless shelter downtown and see how it has been beat up. Then go next door and compare how nice the Gospel Mission facility is — because they DO have rules.

One of the worst things about the Reno plan is that homeless people all over the country who don’t want to take self-responsibility will continue to hear about the great deal in Reno — and will keep moving here. They’ll hear that homeless people can do anything they want in Reno, including breaking most of the laws. They’ll hear that the city just keeps giving the homeless tons of free stuff, without requiring them to do anything.

How do you make homeless people want to be clean/sober and obey the laws? You have to make them accountable for what they do. 

People who support Reno’s plan say that you “can’t arrest your way out of homelessness.” That’s not true. I went to jail more than two-dozen times. Finally, I got sick of wasting my life. Finally, I listened to a local pastor who was encouraging me to turn to God. Finally, I decided I wanted to be a good dad, which meant I had to stop using drugs, obey the law and get a job.

The Reno homeless plan just enables people to keep using and taking — until they die, go to prison or completely lose their health.

This issue isn’t going to be resolved by giving out proverbial fish. We need to hold the homeless accountable and teach them how to fish — that is, live lawfully and productively — so they can take care of themselves.

Tim McGivney is a lifelong Reno resident. He is an outreach worker for the nonprofit Stronghold Institute. He supports principled government, better public schools and firm, fair law-enforcement. He welcomes comments at [email protected]

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