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Volunteers try to clean Storey County homeless camps

By Susan Voyles, Reno Gazzette-Journal
February 5, 2009

Where the Truckee River bike trail ends in east Sparks, homeless people follow a dirt road along the river, cross a railroad bridge and follow the historic Pioneer Trail to well-worn side trails to a dozen or so camps built high in the canyons in Storey County.

Cardwell, a retired Reno police lieutenant, Reno firefighter Pat Kleames and a few of their friends cleared five shopping carts and a pickup load of trash two weeks ago at the start of the trail.

But in a tour they led Wednesday, there were beer bottles, clothes and other trash scattered along the trail in the first canyon east of the Reno-Sparks sewer plant. A thick pile of tumbleweeds hid a tent at the mouth of the canyon. Up in that canyon, Jim, 56, a laid-off Reno casino cook, lives among rats at a makeshift home next to a sizeable garbage heap. Buckets of human excrement were 20 to 30 foot steps below the cabin in the steep ravine.

Inside, his shack was warm and tidy.

"I'm fixing it up as best I can," he said. "There's rats all over the place. I'm trying to get rid of them."

Jim said he's been watching the place for a week or so for a friend who had lived there a couple of years. If he has to move, he said he'd find other places along the Truckee River in Reno or Sparks. He doesn't like homeless shelters because he's afraid of getting sick.

Cardwell, a 35-year Reno police officer, said the outdoor camp was by far the worst he has seen.

"The trash is unbelievable," he said. Cardwell has asked Storey County officials to close the camps and is offering to lead a group of volunteers to clean up the mess.

"My sons came out here to hike these canyons," Kleames said. "No kids should be out here now."

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