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'We're Here, We're Strong'

Heidi Kyser
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Angela Reyes, Shade Tree's director of education and programs, posing in the facility's kitchen, which will be expanded and renovated using the Wynn donation and pro-bono services.

Shade Tree shelter for abused and homeless women and their children is reopening a part of the facility that had to be closed last year due to funding strife. But its transitional housing program is going away permanently, to be replaced by expanded emergency services.

In the summer of 2017, shortly after taking over as executive director of Shade Tree, Stacey Lockhart shuttered the downtown building’s third floor. It housed the transitional, or long-term, program, where residents could stay for up to a year while trying to secure a job and place to live. What remained, on Shade Tree’s second floor, were 160 beds for emergency housing that runs out after 90 days.

In the intervening year, Lockhart undertook a major cleanup — not just of the building, which made headlines for having pest problems, but also of the operating philosophy. Staff was trimmed, walls were painted with inspirational sayings, and a shift from reliance on government grants to the pursuit of philanthropic funding was marked by the kickoff of a capital campaign with a $2.3 million target.

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Lockhart says she met that goal, but it was a tough year nonetheless: “I kind of joke and say last year was Survivor Island. And you know what? We're off the island and we're still here. And this year, this is all about building for the future now. We're here, we're strong, and what that future looks like is going to be determined not just by us internally, but also by the community.”

Wynn Las Vegas, a previous Shade Tree donor, answered Lockhart’s call with a pledge of $1.5 million to anchor a multi-party renovation project. Novus Architecture, MMC Contractors, Ryan Mechanical, TEAM Construction and other companies will work pro-bono with Wynn on a much-needed kitchen expansion, bathroom refurb, and intake area redesign.

The third floor will also reopen, Lockhart says, adding 125 beds. In its new iteration, however, the area will be an expansion of the second floor’s emergency services, rather than transitional housing.

“We're a shelter. We're not meant to be long-term,” Lockhart says. “This is not a facility that anybody should want to live in for up to a year. Our goal is to help people get the resources and get back on their feet so that they can get out of the shelter and move on.”

She added that the community’s top priority is someplace where woman and children in need of immediate assistance can go. Maurice Wooden, president of Wynn Las Vegas, said the startlingly high number of domestic violence 911 calls (170 per day, or 60,000, last year) was among the factors that moved his company to act on Shade Tree’s behalf.

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Wooden says, “What's happening to all the people who are reaching out and saying, ‘I'm having a domestic situation and I need to get out of the house’? We had that presentation five or six months ago, where we were sitting down and going through those numbers, and for a lot of us, it was like, Oh my gosh, we've got to really understand more about what's happening at Shade Tree.”

Lockhart says she’ll also keep working on solutions to bridge the gap between Shade Tree and permanent housing for displaced women and children. An arrangement she made earlier this year with Veterans Village founder Arnold Stalk opened 10 transitional apartments in a new Veterans Village facility for women leaving Shade Tree. Lockhart would like to see more such partnerships in the future.

“I don't want repeat customers,” she says. “I don't want women to have to come back and need our services time and time again. I want them to go out there and be successful, be independent, and come back here and be a donor.”

 

Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.