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John L. Smith: Homeless Medical Unit A Big Step For City/County

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(AP Photo/John Locher)

Beds fill a structure at a coronavirus isolation and quarantine complex for homeless Monday, April 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. The facility, scheduled to open Monday evening, was built to house homeless with suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus that don't require hospitalization.

Partnering with Clark County and private donors, the city of Las Vegas opened a multi-million-dollar, temporary medial unit for the homeless stricken with the novel coronavirus.

Located at Cashman Center in downtown Las Vegas, the series of tents are staffed with professional medical personnel. The different tents are set up to house patients with different degrees of illness. If fully utilized, it could serve up to 500 people.

John L. Smith said the tent is not a hospital--those requiring ventilators and more intense care would be sent to a hospital. But he also said it's a big step by local government, which, over the years, has a spotty record for dealing with the growing homeless population in Southern Nevada.

“It’s an impressive complex, especially when you consider that it's now up and running in a very, very short time,” he said.

Smith said when someone enters the facility they'll be evaluated and then sent to various levels of care. If they've just been exposed but don't have symptoms, they'll be held in quarantine and if they do become symptomatic they'll be moved up to more intensive care.

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“It’s a way to focus on this population that’s very vulnerable to this kind of thing and do it in a mature manner and especially in a manner where it’s effective, which is right now,” he said.

It became evident that the city and county needed the facility after someone with the virus stayed at the Catholic Charities homeless shelter, forcing the shelter to close its doors for several days to be cleaned.

The city of Las Vegas decided to send homeless who would normally be sheltered at the Catholic Charities site to a section of the Cashman Center parking lot and have them sleep in squares that had been painted on the parking lot.

The picture of Las Vegas' homeless setting up on an open parking lot with no protection made headlines.

Smith called the idea "ill-conceived," but he said the public should be proud of the efforts made at the quarantine facility.

“This is a sign that some mature decisions were made between the city and the county, of course, two entities that don’t always get along," he said, "They got together and they moved forward and I think they moved forward pretty quickly. And then when you see it – I was fortunate enough to see it – it is simple but impressive when you see that mission is so serious.”

Smith noted that people must see the issue has a holistic one. He pointed out that the homeless in our community are still in part of our community. 

“It’s corny to say we’re all in this together, but when it comes to a virus, we’re all in it together, whether you like it or not.”

The facility, which officials said might be one of a kind in the country is temporary and will disappear once the novel coronavirus pandemic has faded away

Guests

John L. Smith, longtime Nevada journalist, contributor to KNPR

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