In Elko, some 422 miles north of Las Vegas, it’s starting to get very cold at night. Temperatures are freezing or below.
And in that weather, dozens of homeless people live along the area's Humboldt River in a makeshift flotilla of tents and lean-to shacks.
But it’s accepted. The homeless have camped there since before the town incorporated in 1917. However, City Manager Curtis Calder told KNPR's State of Nevada that after years of people living in the area there were some concerns.
“Over time it was much more dispersed along the river and was creating some environmental contamination issues that the state of Nevada...notified the city of, wanted us to deal with it, our response to that was to try to consolidate the camping into one area," Calder said.
That was about five years ago. Since then the camp has been consolidated into about 10 acres west of the city's center.
Calder estimates about 25 people live at the camp year-round, which doesn't sound like that many but in a city of about 22,000 people it is a lot. The city manager believes the homeless are attracted to Elko because of its size.
“I think Elko is just big enough. It provides some services that the smaller communities don’t," Calder said.
When the encampment was first organized, some people in the community complained. They were concerned that providing services would attract even more homeless but now, Calder said, people in Elko have come to accept the camp as the new reality.
So the worry of the homeless in Elko isn’t that they are there; it’s their safety in the winter.
Many bring wood stoves into their tents. Calder said officials are worried that could lead to dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning or fires.
“The city changed their rules and basically states in writing that these heating devices can only be installed if they are inspected and approved by the City of Elko Fire Department,” he said.
During extremely cold days and nights, an emergency shelter is set up in the city but even then Calder said about 10 people still stay at the encampment.
“I think that people who have been chronically homeless in Elko and prefer to live at the camp actually enjoy living out there and so there’s not a real big incentive for them to find other means of housing.”
Curtis Calder, city manager, Elko
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