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Clark County To Assist On Truancy, Homelessness And High-Speed Trains

The Clark County Commission is one of the most powerful governing bodies in Nevada.

And it’s overseeing some pretty big projects in the Las Vegas area.

Authorized by the Legislature earlier this year, the commission approved a small sales tax increase that will benefit educational and social services.

Last week, $12 million was earmarked to address truancy in the Clark County School District.

Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick told KNPR's State of Nevada that the money is a proactive effort.

"This is a way for Clark County to get in front of it so that we can avoid the juvenile justice system, the social services system and really wrap our arms around the issue sooner, rather than later," she said.

Kirkpatrick said that if kids are in school they are more likely to have more long-term success. 

The reasons for truancy can vary, the commissioner said. Some kids are truant because they are sick, or they've moved but haven unenrolled from their original school, or they're older kids are at home taking care of younger siblings while their parents work.

Because of the different reasons, the county is using the money on a variety of solutions, including hiring family advocates who will go to the homes of chronically absent and truant students to ask what can be done to help.

They will also be creating new Harbor Juvenile Assessment Centers that provide resources for the entire family.

Kirkpatrick said the effort will build on pilot programs already established at 15 schools but will be flexible to address the individual needs of different areas of the district.

During the meeting about the truancy effort, Kirkpatrick and other commissioners expressed concern that principals wouldn't be helpful.

Kirkpatrick explained that in the past some principals have pushed back on ideas from commissioners, like an open door policy at schools to allow space for kids and community members to go for recreation or efforts by commissioners to go into schools to see what needed to be done to improve the school. 

"This is an opportunity for the principals to show us that they're willing to work with us, [that] they're willing to help with the data ... so that we can see what's going on," she said.  

She added that it will be up to the school board to approve the plan. Kirkpatrick would like to launch the program before the tax increase goes into effect on January 1. 

The county isn't just addressing truancy. It’s also funding efforts to combat homelessness.

Tim Burch, the Clark County Administrator of Human Services, said there are a lot of reasons people slip into homelessness, which is why the county has to have several approaches to addressing the problem.

"There is no silver bullet, bright-line approach that is really going to move the needle on this," Burch said.

Burch also said there are a lot of people who are on the verge of homelessness and just one medical episode or one paycheck away from not being able to make rent.

The county will be using fees paid by new marijuana businesses to address that part of the problem, Burch said.

"A part of this marijuana revenue has gone to fund things such as shallow subsidies, which is just a way of saying, 'Let's be able to find a way to fund that $100 gap to keep someone housed rather than waiting for them to become homeless and then spend thousands, tens of thousands to get them rehoused.'"

Another segment of the homeless population are the people who are chronically homeless, Burch said. Those are the people who are on the street for a year or more.

Burch said it takes 15 contacts with a social services provider before there is enough "social capital" buildup for the homeless person to trust the provider and ask for help.

"You have to be consistent and hit them in a time and a frame of mind where they are lucid and clear and say, 'Today's the day I want to get help,'" he said. "We've got to be able to move them off the street at that point, put them in housing, wrap them in resources, such as the resources this $12 million [annual] marijuana revenue will help support."

The county's strategy counters the City of Las Vegas’ proposal to cite and possibly jail those who don’t find a bed in one of the valley’s shelters.

Burch understands the city's idea, but he would rather see the money that would be needed to roll out the plan used to help get people permanently housed. 

He pointed out that it has been shown in other cities that permanent housing with wraparound social services is the only way to really address the issue, but to pull that off, cities first had to have enough shelter beds.

Burch said Southern Nevada lacks both shelter beds and affordable housing to really address the growing issue.

"We need a myriad of approaches in order to build that infrastructure out for our community, and work with our business partners as we do so," he said.

If addressing truancy and homelessness wasn't enough, the county will also play in a role in finally kickstarting high-speed train service between Las Vegas and Victorville, California.

Virgin Trains America is looking to build a high-speed train link between Southern Nevada and Southern California. The company, which is part of Richard Branson's family of companies, already secured $300 million in no-tax bonds from California and it wants support from the Clark County Commission.

County Commissioner Michael Naft explained that the company doesn't want financial help from the county at this stage. It is looking for a resolution that will signal state lawmakers that the county supports it. 

The state might then issue the no-tax bonds for the project.

"For 30 years, almost my entire life, we've been talking about high-speed rail to California," Naft said. "Now we have a partner who is privately funded, there's no taxpayer dollars going into this project that I'm supporting and the investment in this community is incredible."

Naft said they were anticipating nearly $2 billion in economic impact. It would take 5.5 million cars off the highway every year and cut back on the traffic, which can stretch for hours on a busy holiday weekend.

It will be up to the state to look at Virgin Trains America's business plan and decide whether it is viable enough to issue the bonds.

Naft said if everything moves forward, the main station is likely to be built in his district on Las Vegas Boulevard between Windmill Lane and Warm Springs Road.

For now, the train would start in Victorville -- a departure city many have questioned as effective given its two-hour distance from Los Angeles. But Naft believes that people from the region will make that trek, and that eventually the train might make its way into the L.A. area.

Marilyn Kirkpatrick, commissioner, Clark County Commission; Tim Burch, Clark County Administrator of Human Services; Michael Naft, commissioner, Clark County Commission

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.