Homeless advocates set up tent city at Legislature | NevadaAppeal.com

Homeless advocates set up tent city at Legislature

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal William Cole Sr. sits outside the Legislature in Carson City on Sunday night. Cole, a homeless man from Las Vegas, was one of 200 people who took part in the "Tent City: A Night at the Legislature" event.

For Leland Wheelock, Sunday night was just like any other. As he attempted to keep warm with his sleeping bag near the Nevada State Legislature Building, He looked on at the community of tents that had popped up around him.

The Carson City native, who served his country in Vietnam, now spends his nights trying to ward off the cold. Wheelock said he only has one request for the legislators who will pass by him on Monday morning.

“Just give me my freedom, leave me alone and let me live my life,” Wheelock said.

Wheelock was surrounded by approximately 200 people who camped out Sunday as part of “Tent City: A Night at the Legislature.” The two-day event was designed to raise awareness of state’s homeless issues.

“We came to the Capitol to camp out so that our legislators can’t ignore this issue any more. This is such a diverse group of people here to show their support,” said Elizabeth Dorway, executive director of Family Promise in Reno.

The event was timed with the introduction of a bill by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie of Reno. The bill proposes a $20 million appropriation for transitional housing and support services targeted at the homeless population.

Nevada ranks second in the nation for homeless people per capita, with more than 7,000 people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in Reno. The Veterans Administration reports that more than 200,000 U.S. veterans are homeless on any given day.

“We need to bust the myth about the images of homelessness. Most of our images are of a single man, but it’s often families with children and hard-working individuals,” Dorway said.

Michael Lee, a board member of “Forgotten Voices,” a newspaper of the homeless population based in Las Vegas, was one of the speakers Sunday night. Lee lived on the streets of Las Vegas before receiving help as part of a pilot program in Southern Nevada.

“The question I want to ask this audience is, can you count? Because if you can count, we can end homelessness in this state,” Lee said. “I want us today to start the count, link hands, and eliminate homelessness. We are homeless, but we are not helpless, and our day will come.”

Valery Varble, a lecturer at the University of Nevada, Reno, brought 45 of her students down to spend the night.

“I’ve been on the edge of homelessness myself. I lived in a motel for six weeks and lived in my truck for two, and because I know how easily it could happen, I have sympathy for the homeless,” Varble said.

The students in her English 102 class chose to participate as part of their service learning credit for the course.

“She is very passionate about doing this, and we wanted to show our support,” said Adrienne Stauffer, 18.

Gabe Grobben, 18, said, “We wanted to see what it’s like. To see a day in the life of a homeless person.”

The event was organized by PLAN, Family Promise, Safe Place, Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, Food Bank of Northern Nevada, American Civil Liberties Union, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Homeless Veterans of Nevada and Religious Alliance of Nevada.

The Rev. Bonnie Polley, president of Religious Alliance in Nevada, said, “Liberty is a sham when you don’t have a place to live.”

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at jshipley@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.