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Homelessness could be a lingering symptom of the pandemic in Las Vegas

homeless.jpg
Associated Press
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Homeless men shuffle along the railroad tracks just west of the Strip.

Government at all levels enacted measures during the pandemic to keep people in their homes and apartments. 

Yet homelessness, at least when you’re viewing the street corners throughout Southern Nevada, is ever-present. In fact, at times, it feels like it’s growing. 

What’s causing it and is the city of Las Vegas any closer to some kind of solution — not to end homelessness — but to at least get help to those who want to be off the streets? 

Earlier this year the city of Las Vegas began an expansion of its Courtyard homeless outreach center with the goal of providing “all the services someone experiencing homelessness needs so that they can break the cycle and get off the streets.”

Kathi Thomas, director of community services for the city of Las Vegas, said the $25 million project will serve as “a navigation center to help people experiencing homelessness get connected to a wide array of services.”

She told State of Nevada that the expanded facility, set to open Dec. 28, will offer on-site case managers, storage lockers, be available for use as an address of record, and provide kennels because many homeless people will stay on the streets instead of giving up their pets.

“And it's a low barrier location,” she said. “That means we don't breathalyze you, make you give up all your personal items. If you don't fight you can come to the Courtyard.”

Thomas said the homeless challenge has grown during the pandemic, despite government efforts to keep roofs over people's heads.

"Clearly the pandemic exacerbated all the issues that we deal with," she said. "The moratorium covered evictions related to non-payment of rent. But landlords still had the right to evict people for cause for other kinds of reasons."

Thomas disputes the official homeless count of about 6,000 people for Southern Nevada, saying it’s much higher.

“I have always contended that that is an undercount,” she said. “I would double it, I would say that there are at least 12,000 people experiencing homelessness on the street right now.”

She said she bases her estimate on how busy the Courtyard has been, serving more than  6,500 unique individuals in a year.

“We have thousands more who never engage in services,” she said.

And while the homeless are much more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, Thomas said the streets are becoming more dangerous with some homeless arming themselves.

“There are aggressive panhandlers out there. Lots of theft, violence,” she said. “We have a group of homeless folks carrying machetes — machetes.

“I want to be really clear that we separate criminal behavior from homeless status,” she said, “but what we have seen, for example, when people break into buildings, oftentimes they're taking the wiring out of the walls. They use the machete to strip the insulation.

“We've seen them at the recycling centers with a machete in their hand.”

Kathi Thomas, director of community services, city of Las Vegas

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.