Olivia Ali/Nevada Sagebrush
Our Town Reno founder Nico Colombant introduces artist Jared Santos on Thursday, Sept. 27. Our Town Reno received a grant from AIR to host a series of events to highlight homelessness in Reno.

In light of an extreme housing crisis and homelessness rise, Our Town Reno hosted a live event on Thursday, Sept. 27, to highlight homelessness in Reno.

Where Will We Sleep Tonight? was hosted by Our Town Reno at the Eddy House. The event featured live testimonies from residents of the Eddy House, video and audio postcards produced by Our Town Reno and a question and answer session with the director of the Eddy House, Michele Gehr.

Our Town Reno is a multimedia street reporting project that focuses on the homeless and houseless population in the Reno area. The project was started by University of Nevada, Reno,  Reynolds School of Journalism professors Nico Columbant and Kari Barber.

The event was moderated by Corey McDowell, a former “houseless” person. McDowell left her home at the age of 17 due to “unchecked mental illness” in her family. McDowell said she didn’t feel homeless, but she felt free.

The event consisted of multiple homeless youth giving testimonies of their times in shelters and on the streets. The testimonies revolved around the topic of finding a safe place to sleep at night when housing is uncertain.

Other presentations included musical pieces, audio postcards and video tributes. Videos included documentaries about Baby Bleu, a prostitute from a local Reno high school and a video commemorating Devante, an Eddy House frequenter who died of a bacterial infection he caught while living on the streets.

“Devante often slept in the weekly motels and he contracted a bacterial infection that actually  killed his heart and he died at the age of 23 in Saint Mary’s,” Gehr said. “It was two months of heartbreak for our kids and staff. Had he been off the ground and in a safe clean place, he would still be with us right now. That is the worst thing. If they would have had a safe place to stay overnight, these kids would not be sick.”

The Eddy House, the venue for the event, is a shelter that assists homeless youth ages 12-24. However, Gehr says they focus services on ages 18-24.

“We serve 12-24,” Gehr said. “I would prefer to focus on ages 18-24 as that is where the gap in services is. There is funding and services available for our under eighteens but if there is a homeless twelve-year-old, we are mandated reporters. We will bring them, we will give them a Cup O Noodle and we will call Reno PD and Washoe County Social Services.”

Gehr emphasised to the audience about the root of the issue and the fact that Nevada is increasingly worse than years prior.

“We have the highest rising homeless population in the country,” Gehr said. “We are number one. That is Reno, not just Vegas. 71 percent of our kids at Eddy House are from Washoe County and eight percent are from rural Nevada. This is a Nevada issue. This is homegrown. We need to take care of our own. “

In July, Our Town Reno was awarded a #LocaloreLive grant from AIR, the Association of Independents of Reno. The grant was awarded to producers across the country who gave the most compelling pitches. Our Town Reno will continue their series of LocaloreLive events with “Who does the city belong to?” on Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Desert Rose Inn from 5 p.m.-7 p.m.

Olivia Ali can be reached at oali@sagebrush.unr.edu or Twitter @OliviaNAli.