The Reno Ambassadors’ bright blue jackets are hard to miss in downtown Reno. Equipped with radios, knowledge rivaling a local’s, and bright personalities, the Reno Ambassadors are working to keep downtown safe, clean, and fun.
Amanda Hogan, 34, is a Reno local who joined the Reno Ambassadors to give hope in the darkness for people who need it.
“A lot of people knew me during my addiction and now they get to see I’m fully living for something bigger than myself,” Hogan said. “They get to see what it means to fix yourself and be there for other people.”
Similarly, Donald Griffin, 40, has been in Reno for more than 20 years and joined the Ambassadors two years ago because he saw the difference they were making in the community.
“I don’t know when did it become normal for people to lay on the ground and [other] people not actually check on these people,” Griffin said. “We’re the ones going around checking and making sure they’re alive.”
As part of their daily routine, Reno Ambassadors roam the streets downtown checking in with businesses and individuals, helping people who need directions or information, and performing “safe walks” with people who don’t want to walk alone.
Hogan also described the Ambassadors similarly to first responders. They work to de-escalate any situations before the police or paramedics are called.
What many people notice the most about the Reno Ambassadors is when they interact with the unsheltered population in downtown.
“I think people think we’re just bullying people,” Griffin said. “Trying not to let them sit down or offering any help at all.”
However, Reno Ambassadors work in many ways to help people who are struggling. In 2020, the Downtown Reno Partnership (DRP) won an Award of Excellence from the International Downtown Association for its a One-at-a-Time Homeless Outreach program focusing on getting unsheltered people into permanent housing. This program works by connecting unsheltered people directly to services that can assist them through the Ambassadors aid and guidance.
One reason this approach works is because many Reno Ambassadors used to be struggling with addiction, alcoholism, and/or homelessness.
Reno Ambassadors who have gone through these struggles are able to connect with unsheltered individuals, gain their trust, and also serve as a vision of what life could be with a little help.
Hogan, who suffered with addiction in the past, said that one of her most memorable moments as an Ambassador was seeing an individual after he was able to get help.
“It meant everything to me that a little bit of faith and a little bit of motivation was all he needed to change his life,” Hogan said.
With the aid of a donor, the Downtown Reno Partnership has also been able to help get train tickets for individuals who have been stranded in Reno. Ambassadors have been able to help people travel from Reno to their home or to family in other cities and states.
Other daily interactions include helping individuals find places in shelters, locating emergency showers, handing out information about addiction and places people can find help, and performing wellness checks.
Hogan said that the Reno Ambassadors are always open to suggestions from anyone, including people who visit downtown, business owners, and people who live in downtown.
“If they want to tell us they expected more from us in certain ways or if there was something we could do to make our presence more available, we can do that.”
To reach the Reno Ambassador hotline, call 775-313-4080.