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Coronavirus, Layoffs Adding To Homeless Challenges In Las Vegas

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Credit: Courtesy Veterans Village/Share Village

Volunteers distribute food last weekend at Veterans Village in downtown Las Vegas.

Last November the city of Las Vegas tightened restrictions on sleeping on the streets.

Proponents said it was a tool to get the homeless the help they need. Others saw it differently and called it a war on the poor.

And now, the threat of the coronavirus has descended on our state.

Coronavirus: What You Need To Know

Many on the streets already suffer from the kinds of pre-existing conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19. And mass layoffs may swell the ranks of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“The city is working very closely with the Southern Nevada Health District to make sure the resources and services are available but since the inception of the courtyard, cleanliness has been a priority. It’s a challenge with that population but it’s still a priority,” city councilman Brian Knudsen told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Knudsen said the city has brought in a third party to clean the homeless courtyard downtown and it is using every precaution it can.

Arnold Stalk is the founder of Veterans Village, which recently changed its name to Share Village. He is a long time advocate for the homeless. His group helps hand out food through Three Square food pantries.

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“There’s been a marked increase in requests for food,” he said.

Stalk said people are hurting and they need help.

County Commissioner Tick Segerblom said the area hasn't yet felt the full effect of the casinos closing because of the outbreak but it is coming.

“There is going to be major ripple effects,” he said.

Segerblom is hopeful that the outbreak and its economic impact won't last long. 

But even without an outbreak of a potentially deadly virus, the homeless situation in Las Vegas is getting worse. 

Besides implementing a new ordinance against sleeping or camping on the street when there are open shelter beds, the city has put in place a program that aims to reconnect people to family and friends, and if necessary, give them a bus ticket to a city where those family and friends are located.

“I think this is one of the best programs the city has," Knudsen said, "It is really intended on making sure that our folks experiencing homelessness if they have somewhere to go and have someone to receive them the city is there to help them get home and get home safely.”

Knudsen said the program doesn't just give someone a bus ticket to a random place but makes sure there is a loved one on the other end to receive them and help them get back on their feet.

While that program seems to be working, some people living and working in the county have complained that the city's sleeping ordinance has just pushed the homeless from the city to the county.

Segerblom said they are hearing stories about that happening, which is why he believes the real solution needs a more comprehensive approach.

“Until we have resources and homes or places to live. It’s going to be one of those things where it’s just whack-a-mole,” he said. 

Knudsen agreed and pointed out that because homelessness is a multi-faceted problem, "that’s going to require a concerted effort on every elected official at city, county, state levels.”

Stalk goes even further. He doesn't believe homelessness is an issue that should be left to government entities to address.

“I don’t believe it’s the city’s responsibility. I don’t believe it’s the county's responsibility. I believe it’s a community responsibility,” he said.

Stalk would like to see private industries get more involved in solving the homeless problem. 

Segerblom said there are ways to find funding and cooperation but "at the end of the day, it's just whether we have the commitment to do what needs to be done.”

Guests

Brian Knudsen, Ward 1 Councilman, City of Las Vegas; Tick Segerblom, Clark County Commissioner, District E; Arnold Stalk, founder, Veterans Village

 

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