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Homeless Population Continues To Grow In Southern Nevada

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Alex Proimos/Flickr

Las Vegas has one of the highest homeless populations in the country. 

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Las Vegas is the smallest city among the 10 with the largest homeless populations, coming in at No. 8. 

A point-in-time count in January for Clark County totaled 6,490 homeless people. 

Clark County officials and non-profit organizations led a team of volunteers this month to conduct the annual homeless count, which seeks to determine just how many adults and children are on the streets of Southern Nevada. 

The numbers won't be out until the spring, but they're expected to be higher than they were last year, according to Fuilala Riley, the president and CEO of Help of Southern Nevada.

 “I would say you’re probably going to see an increase in the street homeless," she told KNPR's State of Nevada, "You’re going to see an increase in youth homeless.”

She said as our city's population grows so does the number of homeless. 

And while the economy has improved since the Great Recession, Riley said many homeless people are just not prepared to take advantage of the improving economy.

Riley said substance abuse, particularly the opioid crisis, along with mental health issues keep many people in the cycle of homelessness.

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While most people understand the slide adults can take into homelessness, they don't understand that youth end up homeless for very different reasons.

“It’s a rather unique population in terms of why they become homeless but also in terms of counting them as well,” said Arash Ghafoori, the executive director of the Nevada Partnership on Homeless Youth.

Ghafoori said young people don't fall into homelessness because of a financial downward spiral like most adults do. Instead, they become homeless suddenly.

“A lot of times with youth, they become homeless suddenly and unpredictably because of severe breakdown in homes or failed institutional systems,” he said.

Ghafoori said homeless teens are often kicked out of their homes because they are LGBTQ. They'll leave their homes because of abuse or domestic violence. He said young people will also run away from group homes or other institutions, believing a life on the streets is better than the life they were in.

However, Ghafoori said being on the street puts young people at incredible risk for exploitation and abuse. He said 1 in 3 kids on the street can be "lured into survival sex within 48 hours of being on the streets." 

Homelessness is the No. 1 risk factor for the commercial sexual exploitation of children, he said.

Homeless youth were also counted during the homeless count last month, but there are counted in a different way, Ghafoori said, because they often don't want to be found.

It is difficult to get a good count of homeless people but almost impossible to get a very good count of the number of homeless youth.

The numbers are important because that is what the Housing and Urban Development Department uses to determine how much money a community needs to help fight homelessness.

Riley said Southern Nevada has made great strides in getting more help for the homeless, particularly the homeless veteran population, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“We need more beds. We need more money for the supportive services to wrap around whatever sub [population] we’re talking about,” she said.

The homeless veteran population is at what is known as "functional zero," which doesn't mean there are no homeless veterans on the streets, Riley explained. What it means is if homeless service providers and county officials were able to bring in every veteran on the street right now there would be a bed and services for them.

Riley and Ghafoori would like to see the same thing for the rest of the homeless, especially homeless youth.

“People do not realize how bad our youth homeless situation is in our community,” Ghafoori said.

He said it is estimated there are 1,500 homeless kids enrolled in schools in the Clark County School District.

Guests

Fuilala Riley, President/CEO HELP of Southern Nevada; Arash Ghafoori, executive director, Nevada Partnership on Homeless Youth 

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