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During the 2016 election, recreational marijuana became law of the land in Nevada. Advocates made the case for legalization largely by promising that its tax revenue would help pad the underfunded education budget.
Now, the golden goose that is the booming marijuana industry will also keep homeless off the streets.
Earlier this year, the Clark County Commission budgeted an estimated $9.7 million taken from cannabis license fees for reducing homelessness. And on Tuesday, the Commission earmarked $1.8 million of that allotment to HELP of Southern Nevada to provide shelter and support for homeless youth and those still ailing after hospital visits.
“Our commission, they’re a bold bunch of people, and they took some leadership and initiative, and they knew there was an issue that needed additional financing to bring resources to the table to fill in some gaps and to do some innovative programming,” Mike Pawlak, director of Clark County Social Services, told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Pawlak said the commission directed his department to funnel the money into programs that are already successful -- and to do it swiftly.
“We were charged with getting it out the door quickly. And that’s why we are expanding existing programs that we know to perform and deliver very timely,” he said.
An estimated 6,000 people are homeless in Southern Nevada. At last count, more than 1,000 of those people were youth under the age of 25.
Of the allocated money, $855,000 will fund 76 new beds for HELP’s Shannon West Youth Homeless Center and $930,000 is slated to sustain 60 beds for HELP’s rapid rehousing program for those just discharged from Valley hospitals
Michelle Fuller-Hallauer is a manager at Clark County Social Services. She said those groups are just two among a myriad of subpopulations in the overall homeless population.
“Those absolutely are folks that we know have very unique needs and so we need programming that is specific to meet them where they are and to help move them to be in a healthier situation,” she said.
Health Plan of Nevada will be providing health care services for the people recently released from the hospital and HELP of Southern Nevada will be providing other services like housing and mental health support.
Fuller-Hallauer said an important difference with the money the county is sending their way is it has fewer strings attached than federal dollars, which may pay for rent or security deposits but can't be used to pay for unpaid utility bills, outstanding fees or warrants.
“These dollars are more flexible," she said, "So they will allow us to fill the gaps on things that our other funding doesn’t allow us to pay for.”
Fuller-Hallauer acknowledges the marijuana money won't end homeless in Southern Nevada, but she believes it is a step in the right direction.
“I really believe it will help us get to a place where we have developed a system that is on its way to being healthy,” she said.
Kelly Robson, the chief social services officer with HELP of Southern Nevada, agrees.
“It is definitely not the end-all, be-all,” she said, “We’re not solving the issue but we’re definitely making a dent in the issue.”
Robson said her organization will be hiring 10 new staff members to help with the 76 new beds at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center near UNLV that the license money will be funding.
There are already 90 beds at the facility, and she has no doubt the new beds will be filled immediately. Robson said they don't turn away kids who come to their door. Instead, they find a place for them to sleep and provide them the services they may need.
"Those 90 beds have been full," she said, "And we've had anywhere between eight and 15 kids sleeping on couches every night at our youth facility."
A recent article in the Huffington Post documented the rise of homelessness after the Great Recession and why the country can't seem to solve the problem.
Michelle Fuller-Hallauer said while the solutions are varied, the root of homelessness is simple.
“Without affordable housing, folks end up homeless because they can’t continue to pay their rent,” she said.
The cost of housing is too high she said, which means paying for something like medical bills or a car repair could drain someone's resources for rent or a mortgage payment.
Mike Pawlak, director, Clark County Social Service; Michelle Fuller-Hallauer, manager, Clark County Social Service; Kelly Robson, chief social services officer, HELP of Southern Nevada.
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