In Casinos' Shadows, Life In Tent City

In the shadows of Reno's high-rise casinos, one community lives with almost nothing. In tent after tent - it's a human mosaic of suffering.

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane asked one tent city resident, Gena Mercer: "Did you ever imagine you'd wind up living in a place like this?"

"Oh no, I imagined myself being in a tent for a vacation," she said.

Nevada's unemployment rate is at a 23-year high. In Reno, the number of jobless jumped 60 percent in the last year. Now for 170 people, the tent city is home.

"I know that God is going to take care of me but … but … some days it's very scary," says a resident named Mona.

Whether it's the blaring train or the blazing sun, life is not easy there for the mix of chronically homeless, and those newly so - like Michael Moore and his partner Marian Schamp.

"I mean, we worked all our life. We shouldn't be, at our age, having to sleep in the dirt," said Schamp.

Just last Christmas, they lived in a rented house in Portland, until Moore lost the job he'd had for three years at a gas station. They moved to Reno in search of work.

Moore's resume says he's a veteran with a GED and experience working a forklift in warehouses. But there are just not jobs out there for him.

"Not right now," he said.

"Looking" means taking long walks. Today, Moore hopes a scrap yard may offer work.

"I don't have any openings right now," a boss at a scrap metal yard told Moore.

Those words echo through the tent city.

Read more from Seth Doane at Couric & Co. Blog
This is not just happening in Reno. Across the country, tent cities have either popped up or expanded in places like Seattle, Portland, Fresno, Columbus, and Chattanooga.

The problem got so bad in Reno, city officials decided to organize the tent city - and run it.

The city provided fencing, brought in security and fresh water temporarily, until they can move the people into housing or shelters.

But the more difficult fix for people like the Moores is finding work. They know they'll have to do that themselves.
  • Seth Doane

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