Sparks city officials have introduced an ordinance aimed at clearing out the growing number of homeless camps along the Truckee River corridor.
The ordinance, which was introduced Monday by the Sparks City Council, prohibits camping on public property within 350 feet of the shore of the river within city limits. A public hearing on the proposal has been set for the next council meeting on March 28. The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance following the hearing.
“The ordinance gives us the tools to better address and mitigate the homeless encampments along the Truckee River in Sparks because we don’t have the tools in place to do that,” said Adam Mayberry, the city’s community relations manager. “It’s a very sensitive and difficult problem to solve. It’s not as simple as calling law enforcement and having them removed.”
Mayberry said that during the last year nearly every city department has received calls from people expressing public-safety and health concerns about the homeless camps along the river trail.
“We recognize that the trail along the river and the river itself are very important to people who live here,” he said. “And we want to make sure we project the integrity of that environment.”
The Sparks proposal, patterned after the city of Reno’s ordinance, bans camping from a half hour after sunset to sunrise. Camping, according to the measure, not only includes sleeping, but also means storing personal belongings, cooking, making a fire, and using a tent or other structure for sleeping.
Violating the camping restrictions is a misdemeanor offense. A person will not be cited for a violation unless a warning has been issued first by a law enforcement official.
City officials said the ordinance and the policies to implement it attempt to address the interests of the general public while recognizing individual rights, primarily the protection against unlawful seizure of personal property. They acknowledge it’s a delicate balancing act.
Mayberry said the homeless have property rights, so it’s not as simple as clearing out the camps and removing items. The issue, he said, also is not limited to law enforcement or city government but requires the involvement of mental-health and substance-abuse organizations.
Assistant City Attorney Shirle Eiting said the city is trying to ensure that the regulations provide adequate notice and preserve property rights by documenting items seized and allowing their owners to retrieve them.
“Our intention is not to cite or arrest people,” Eiting said. “It’s really to help clean this up.”