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From sidewalk to sanctuary: Las Vegas developing campus where the homeless can rest, find resources

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L.E. Baskow

Homeless camp out on the sidewalk as the city of Las Vegas is undergoing a $15 million project to create a “homeless camp” where the homeless can stay and get connected to services along Las Vegas Boulevard from Owen to Foremaster on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

Mon, Jun 19, 2017 (2 a.m.)

Like everyone else, homeless people need sleep. But finding a place to rest their heads can be difficult.

Many are hesitant to use shelters for a variety of reasons, and those who aren’t sometimes find beds at capacity. Managers of public parks have cracked down on overnight visitors. Businesses that can afford to hire security have them kicked off private property.

And so, men and women without housing have dispersed deeper into residential neighborhoods, not just downtown but throughout the valley. Meanwhile, commercial areas where enforcement on loitering or encamping isn’t frequent have become inundated with homeless.

The latter includes the so-called Corridor of Hope. Located on Las Vegas Boulevard where the city of Las Vegas meets North Las Vegas, the stretch of land hosts several providers of social services, including Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. Around here, tents are set up in alleys. Sidewalks are crowded with shopping carts. And people are sleeping in whatever space they can find.

But the city of Las Vegas has a plan.

Inspired by a concept in San Antonio, the city hopes to transform properties within the Corridor of Hope into a courtyard and transitional campus. The former would provide the homeless with an immediate and approachable open-air setting where they could legally sleep and get basic amenities like a shower and toilet. The latter would help connect them to the services and programs they need to address their circumstances and get back on their feet.

By the numbers:

According to the Southern Nevada Homeless Census, of the 6,208 people homeless in the area in 2016:

• 55.4% were newly homeless

• 71.6% were living in Southern Nevada at the time of becoming homeless

• 51.6% cited job loss as the primary cause of homelessness

• 70% are households without children, 25% are youths, 5% are families

• 86% of homeless youth are unsheltered

• 12% are living out of cars, 11% in vans and RVs, 10% in abandoned buildings, and 67% in other places not meant for human habitation

“It fills a gap and brings services together,” explained Las Vegas Deputy City Manager Scott Adams, who will become city manager next month. “What we need is somewhere for the homeless to go during the day where they can have dignity.”

City officials believe the costs of creating such a campus and its operations over time will be offset in the grand scheme by reducing the number of homeless who wind up in the local jail and court system. By encouraging legal encampments, the courtyard also could cut the need to tear down and sanitize sites that are considered a nuisance.

“We hope there’s a net savings,” Adams said. “But also, it’ll be more humane. The municipal jail should not be a health care system. Right now, (the homeless) go to jail, they’re fed and sheltered, and their basic health care needs are met. That shouldn’t be the case. There should be different providers who are maybe more qualified to meet their specific needs.”

Current city plans have the first phase of the campus — the courtyard — opening in March 2018.

The transitional campus model, like the one in San Antonio that several representatives from Southern Nevada visited for inspiration, has yielded impressive results. But when the Las Vegas City Council last month approved $15 million (funding the entire project through mid-2019) for a scaled-down version at the Corridor of Hope, they did so a bit begrudgingly.

Their hesitations came not because council members thought the approach was misplaced. On the contrary, they found it innovative and necessary. Their concern was whether this city-funded solution would be overrun by the problems of the entire region.

“This is not an approval to create a situation where all of Southern Nevada’s homeless will be dumped in downtown Las Vegas,” said Councilman Ricki Barlow, whose district includes the Corridor of Hope.

“We are sizing this for our community,” Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said. “This is not designed to bring everyone from everyplace else. We need to continue those conversations (with the other municipalities).”

Typical profile of a homeless person in Clark County

• White

• Male

• Unsheltered

• Age 41-60

• No children

• Homeless for the first time

• Recently lost job

• Used ER at least once in past year

• Has one or more disabling condition

San Antonio’s Haven for Hope is a regional effort. To enter the campus, you must be a resident of Bexar County, Texas. Those who aren’t are turned away. Exceptions are made for families with children, but even then they are accepted temporarily and diverted to appropriate organizations within their own jurisdictions.

Barlow wants to see the Corridor of Hope built up, but says he believes it should just be a satellite location serving the city of Las Vegas. A wider regional campus should be the main focus, and he’s even got a place in mind: the lot where the Castaways/Showboat used to be, off Fremont Street and Oakey Boulevard.

“We have to approach this regionally,” he said. “I am concerned that if we build something with a small footprint, it will only exacerbate the problem. We can’t do this on one block and a 3-acre site.”

The Showboat site has 30 acres and is more equidistant from the different jurisdictions, adds Barlow.

Through spokesman Dan Kulin, Clark County acknowledged the need for a regional effort and noted that the Southern Nevada Homelessness Continuum of Care Board brings together nonprofit partners throughout the county. Clark County submits the regional application for more than $13 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development annually.

The county also administers more than $10 million in federal and state grants that support housing programs and other services related to homelessness.

Finally, it spends more than $12.5 million of its own budget annually on regional programs, including $930,000 for street team outreach to homeless camps and $2 million to support existing shelters.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who went on the trip to Haven for Hope, says that much of its work on homelessness is done at the staff level. She’d like to see more involvement at the elected official level, starting with regular reports from the Continuum of Care showing where funding is going and how it’s being used.

“We do need a regional approach,” she said, “because it spills over and affects everyone.”

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