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Homeless In Southern Nevada: Is Progress Being Made?

Pam Puppel

Homeless encampment outside the Las Vegas Rescue Mission.

Every year, Clark County issues a report on the homeless population in southern Nevada. It's based on a count that is carried out every January for two days.

Michele Fuller-Hallauer is the Continuum of Care Coordinator with Clark County Social Services. She said volunteers spread out throughout all of the county, including in flood tunnels under the city and desert areas, to visually count people sleeping outside or in places not fit for human habitation.  

Fuller-Hallauer admits the count is a "snapshot" of the number of homeless at that point in time. She says the numbers help the community to know what services need to be developed to help people.

The p reliminary findings show more than 6,000 people were experiencing homelessness in Clark County during those two days in January, which is down slightly from the 2017 numbers. 

The survey also showed that more than 3,000 homeless people had no shelter the days of the survey.  

The county says the homeless numbers are down 19 percent from the 2015 survey, which showed more than 7,500 people were homeless. 

Fuller-Hallauer said another important statistic in the report is the number of people who have been homeless for a year or longer.

In 2017, more than half of the people surveyed had been on the streets less than a year, but this year's survey showed the reverse, a majority of people had been homeless a year or longer.

"When you are homeless for a long period of time, that is trauma," she said, "It is a traumatic event. So exacerbation of substance use, exacerbation of mental health issues, a feeling of desperation, I think those are things that come to the forefront."

Merideth Spriggs is the chief kindness officer for Caridad Charity. Her organization works to provide services to Southern Nevada's homeless. It worked with the county to count people who are homeless.

She said every day people talk to her about how they are seeing more homeless in neighborhoods where they haven't been before and people tell her the homeless people they encounter are often more aggressive.

Spriggs says more enforcement of loitering laws downtown and along the tourist corridors have forced many homeless into areas of the valley they haven't been in before. 

That enforcement coupled with a lack of affordable housing has put more homeless people into areas all around the valley.

"That combination is what this is really becoming a problem for everybody around the valley," she said.

Affordable housing is the problem and the solution as far as Arnold Stalk is concerned.

He is the president and chief executive officer of Veterans Village of Las Vegas. 

"The only way to solve a homeless problem is to build housing of all types," he said.

Stalk said adding emergency, temporary and permanent housing are needed around Southern Nevada, along with specialty housing for people with special needs like mental illness.

He said the problem is not something the government can solve. He believes partnerships between private companies and public agencies along with nonprofits is the only way to really tackle the problem.

"We can solve this problem quite simply if we have a plan," he said.

CEO of the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Heather Engle, agrees that more affordable housing is the best way to tackle the homelessness problem, but she believes it really is the government's issue to take the lead on because local, state and federal governments have the power and funds.

"Housing is the key," Engle said, "There is not enough housing. The other critical component to is intensive long-term case management."

Engle said people who have been living on the streets need help with some of the most basic life skills like keeping a house clean, doing laundry, managing money, finding and keeping a job.

Because homelessness is a multi-faceted problem, Engle believes there needs to be multi-faceted solutions.

Spriggs said there is a community-wide push to meet the housing needs. Her group along with other nonprofits have created a website that has a dashboard showing how many people are homeless, how much money has been raised to meet their goal and how to support the effort. 

She said for people who want to help this is a better way than trying to bring food or clothing to the homeless on the street, which unfortunately can cause more problems than it solves.



Michele Fuller-Hallauer, Continuum of Care Coordinator,  Clark County Social Service; Merideth Spriggs, Chief Kindness Officer, Caridad Charity; Heather Engle, CEO, Las Vegas Rescue Mission; Arnold Stalk, President and Chief Executive Officer, Veterans Village of Las Vegas

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.