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City Of Las Vegas Launches New Effort To Help The Homeless

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Carlos Brena/Flickr

The City of Las Vegas is launching a new effort it hopes helps with the growing homeless population.

It's called Homeless 365 and it brings together the city, Metro Police, faith-based services and community partners to help get people off the streets.

Las Vegas has the nation's eighth-largest homeless population.

In 2017, Housing and Urban Development reported Las Vegas' sheltered homeless grew by 4 percent; and its unsheltered population grew by 14 percent. There are more than 7,800 homeless people in Nevada, and more than 80 percent of them live in Las Vegas. 

One part of the new effort by the city is a courtyard that is in a pilot phase now. It is a one-stop shop for services, and it's located at Las Vegas Boulevard and Foremaster Lane, which is in the middle of what the city calls the Corridor of Hope.

The Corridor of Hope is home to several different organizations that offer help to homeless people, including Catholic Charities, Shade Tree and the Salvation Army.

Support comes from

Kathi Thomas-Gibson is the community services manager for the City of Las Vegas. She said the courtyard provides services ranging from mobile showers to help with a job search. 

"It has actually been very comprehensive over the past year to offer everything from housing assessments and placements to jobs, clothing, everything that will help someone get on a path back to self-sufficiency," she said.

Right now, it's an open-air resource center but the city has plans to build on the property and provide even more services.

The homeless population long caused issues for businesses in the urban core. 

Michael Vannozzi is executive director of the Downtown Alliance, a group of 70 downtown businesses owners. He said his group wants to see a "comprehensive solution" to homelessness.

One of the goals the Downtown Alliance is to educate business owners about the programs Metro Police, the City of Las Vegas and Clark County have for homeless people. 

"People don't know what do to do once they encounter an issue on their property or adjacent to their business," Vannozzi said.

It is that confusion that can lead business owners or their employees to provide food and supplies to homeless people, believing they are doing the right thing.

However, Thomas-Gibson said in reality it causes a bigger problem. She gave an example of a downtown office building where the coffee shop inside the lobby was giving out day-old sandwiches to homeless people and they didn't understand why their lobby was always full of homeless people.

To make matters worse, the building manager gave money to a disruptive homeless person to leave the building. The next day a whole group of homeless people was in the lobby waiting to get paid cash.

"We're not asking people to not give," Thomas-Gibson said. "We're not asking you to avoid homeless people or not share with homeless people. We are suggesting there is a way to do that that actually addresses homeless."

One of the charities that have long been working to address homelessness is Catholic Charities. Deacon Tom Roberts is the CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.

He said while he appreciates the generosity of people trying to bring homeless people blankets, water, personal items and food, it is better for everyone to bring those items to an organization like his.

Besides just food and shelter, Catholic Charities and other organizations have programs to make sure people get job and life skills training, along with job placement.

Roberts said those efforts and addressing the underlying causes of chronic homelessness are vital to solving the problem.

"As this courtyard concept goes forward, I've challenged the city to make sure we address the systemic issues of mental health and addictions," Roberts said. "So many of the chronically homeless are struggling with those issues and if that becomes a programming component to this courtyard it can become replicable in other parts of the valley."

One person who knows the scope of the problem of people with mental illnesses living on the street is Officer Mel Frailey with Metro Police.

Frailey is part of a team that started about a year ago called MORE, which stands for Multi-agency Outreach Resource Engagement. Members of the team go out into the community two officers at a time to talk to homeless people about what they need.

The MORE team partners with several different agencies that have a particular focus then helps them find the wrap-around services they need to get off the streets.

Since it started they've been able to get 145 people off the street, but they've made 4,000 one-on-one contacts with people. Frailey believes even if people don't agree to get help with the first contact they will eventually take that helping hand.

Frailey said there are far too few beds for people with mental illnesses. 

"There is a lot of mentally ill out there, absolutely," he said. "Is there enough beds? Probably not. We could use a lot more resources when it comes to individuals suffering from mental illness, but we do what we can."

 

Guests

Kathi Thomas-Gibson, community services manager, City of Las Vegas; Deacon Tom Roberts, CEO, Catholic Charities; Michael Vannozzi, executive director, Downtown Alliance; Mel Frailey, officer, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

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