Las Vegas City Council last month voted to spend nearly $30 million for expanded homeless services at its Courtyard shelter.
The funds, the bulk of which come from federal sources, will go toward a new homeless services building and additional shade structures.
“The finished facility will have canopies under which individuals who choose to stay overnight can sleep and they’ll be cooled in summer and heated in winter. And it’s really to provide some cover if there is inclement weather,” said Kathi Thomas-Gibson, director of community services at the city of Las Vegas.
Work on the long-planned project is expected to begin this month, with completion set for 2022.
The city won't be directly operating the Courtyard but instead has brought in an outside group to run the center.
“We understand that not-for-profit partners who operate in that space are always probably the best set of experts to provide those services,” Thomas-Gibson said.
She said the city has set the standards for how the center will be managed by the group Chicanos Por La Causa Nevada, which she said has a track record of working with populations that face challenges to becoming self-sufficient.
Thomas-Gibson said the city wants to make sure the courtyard is a "low-barrier access point" for services and people won't be arbitrarily excluded.
There will not be breathalyzer tests and people won't have to give up their pets or throw out their stuff.
Thomas-Gibson said the providers will be people-first focused and actively engaged in "whole-person care."
“The standards are set by the city, but we really want the experts in the subject matter on the ground,” she said and the city will be actively involved with its partners to provide solutions and support.
The homelessness problem in Las Vegas is nothing new but there could be a surge in homelessness because of the end of the eviction moratorium put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. The moratorium ends Sept. 1.
Thomas-Gibson said the city has set up a rental assistance program to prevent people from losing their homes. She reminded people that evictions are a legal process.
“We want them to understand that someone cannot evict you by simply sticking a note on your door,” she said.
Legal experts are advising people who are concerned about being evicted to contact their landlord to work out a payment plan and contact the state for help with rental assistance.
Arnold Stalk has been working on the homeless issue for years. He is the founder of Share Village, which provides low-cost housing for people in need.
Stalk praised the city for its efforts with the Courtyard.
“The city is doing what nobody else is doing and that is addressing the problem and it’s a very complicated problem,” he said.
However, he believes the overall problem of homeless is not being addressed the way it should be in Southern Nevada.
“We need a master plan to end homelessness and that master plan, the basis for it is to build housing,” he said.
Stalk said the housing solution will take time and money - two things that most people don't want to like to hear about.
As for the wave of evictions that are expected because of the coronavirus pandemic, Stalk said there needs to be a comprehensive plan to provide rental assistance.
“What a lot of our residents have heard from our governor and from some elected officials is landlords should make a payment plan with their tenants. Our tenants are broke!” he said.
If rent and mortgages aren't paid, there will be a ripple effect on landlords and developers. Stalk said.
For his part, Stalk has been working on turning shipping containers into tiny houses for low-income housing. There are 10 so far and he has plans to create more.
Stalk applauded the city and the county's support of his innovative approach to solving homelessness.
“I think there is an overall desire for the right thing to be done it’s just complicated. It is a very, very complicated process,” he said.
Thomas-Gibson said public-private partnerships like the one the city has with Stalk's organization are key to solving the homeless problem in Southern Nevada for good.
“If we’re really serious about addressing homelessness, it’s a whole community involvement," she said, "It’s not something any one sector can do alone and we really, really need to come together – public, private, philanthropic sectors – to move this incredible stone up this hill.”
Kathi Thomas-Gibson, director of community services, city of Las Vegas; Arnold Stalk, founder, Share Village
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