You see them when you pull up to a red light. They hold up cardboard signs that say, “Fell on hard times” or “Unable to work.”
Street corner beggars can be found even in the more affluent areas of town.
Ruth Bental said she sees them at the corner of Fort Apache Road and Charleston Boulevard on her way home from work. The traffic light there is a long one, so she observes them.
“All four corners, every night,” Bental said. “They seem to rotate, but it’s pretty much the same ones.”
Bental said she noticed one woman in particular, who walked with a limp.
“And she’s got this sign, and she looks pathetic,” Bental said. “But I noticed her hair has got the dye growing out, so she can afford the hair dye. … And she’s smoking a cigarette. … So, you can afford hair dye. You can afford a pack of cigarettes. And then, when she met up with her friend, and they left, she didn’t limp anymore. And I’m thinking, ‘I’ll be darn.’ ”
She said she has never given them money. Why?
“I think it encourages them,” Bental said. “I mean, if it’s legit, then I feel sorry for them. But I don’t think they’re all legit.”
A GROWING PROBLEM
“Panhandlers, they’re everywhere now, and probably 98 percent, 99, are not homeless and do it as a profession,” said Christi Simms, who lives near Buffalo Drive and Charleston Boulevard.
She said a neighbor’s roommate in her apartment complex goes out each day to panhandle.
“She goes out in disguise,” she said. “What they do is, they leave their clothes in a plastic bag and hide it in the bushes, then they change their clothes. Being public property, no one can do anything about it. … Then there’s Don, an older gentleman, very friendly, says he’s a veteran … and he takes that money, and in the afternoon, one of the 7-Eleven boys told me, he’s in there gambling.”
She said panhandlers also leave garbage behind, bringing a look of neglect and deterioration to the area.
“I pick up a bag of trash every other day,” Simms said. “It’s really turning into an issue.”
TRYING TO MAKE ENDS MEET
View approached a couple of panhandlers. At Charleston Boulevard and Fort Apache Road was a man who said his name was Matthew. He was shy and disheveled and said he was about 25. He said he’s new to the area and is there daily for four or five hours. He makes between $15 and $20 a day, money he said he uses to buy food and flashlight batteries.
He said panhandling is a little dangerous.
“I’ve been hit by cars,” he said. “My elbows and shoulders have been hit by their mirrors when they go by.”
He declined to say where he came from or what circumstances led to his panhandling.
Just down the street at Buffalo Drive was a woman who said her name was Penny. She said she was in her early 40s. Penny was nicely dressed in jeans and a zippered athletic jacket. She held a cardboard sign that read, “Laid off. Two children. Anything helps. Waiting for unemployment. God Bless.”
She said she’s been begging for two years and that the Charleston/Buffalo corner was safer than others where people drive faster.
“I feel a little bit more safer here than anywhere else, and I try to stay away from the other homeless people,” she said. “It’s very dangerous. I’ve been beat up and robbed.”
She said that was three months ago.
“They took all my stuff,” Penny said. “So, it’s a little scary out here, but what are you supposed to do when you’re hungry and need a place to stay?”
Penny said she’d worked at a 7-Eleven for nearly 14 years when the business was sold and the new owner let everybody go.
“I’ve got to have food,” she said. “I got two boys, 12 and 10; they don’t know that I do this. They know we’re homeless. We’ve had to sleep outside a couple times, and I’m trying to avoid that. I don’t do drugs. I do drink once in a while, and I smoke cigarettes. They’re like $4 a pack, but it’s like (weighing your options). A sandwich or a cigarette? Mac and cheese or a cigarette? The food is going to come first.”
She said out of every 10 cars, maybe one will hand her $1 or $2 or some change. She gets $72 in food stamps every month. With her growing boys, she said it barely lasts more than a week. Like Matthew, she said she spends four to five hours every day at her corner.
“One time, a guy gave me a $50 bill,” she said. “I was so thankful. People must have thought I was crazy because I started crying.”
What does she wish people knew?
“That we’re not all out here because we have drug habits, doing this because we don’t want to work,” she said. “We do want to work. I want a job. I want to be a good person in society. I don’t want to be out here feeling like a bum.”
PANHANDLING DIFFICULT TO MONITOR
District F Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager said she sees panhandlers near Fort Apache Road and Sahara Avenue.
“There are two or three people who have been there for probably many years,” she said. “There’s one I see with a shopping cart. I always wonder where she goes in the evening.”
Brager said if residents see someone causing problems by panhandling, they should report it.
“As you know, it’s First Amendment rights, so it’s very hard to monitor,” she said. “But if there are negative things going on, if they are impeding traffic, we’ll call Metro or have the county code enforcement officer come out to talk to them. So, we will address it if it’s a safety problem.”
On Jan. 23 and 24, 2013, the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition conducted the Southern Nevada Homeless Census. It said an estimated 633,782 people nationwide are homeless. In Southern Nevada, the count decreased by 22 percent from 2011. It concluded that between 2011 and 2013, the homeless count decreased from 9,432 to 7,355, which, figured annually, showed a total of 43,294 homeless people in 2011 and 33,882 in 2013.
Ward 2 Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers said the true number of homeless people can never be known.
“I don’t even think they get out here (to Summerlin),” Beers said of the count. “They’re more in the city core and the Maryland Parkway (area). If you count them in early February, by March it could be a whole different kettle of fish. It’s just a difficult problem. We so badly want to help but can’t figure out the tools to make it stop.
“There’s no good answer to this. When we were kids, the federal government ran institutions to which judges sent these people, and they were locked up. I don’t know if it was ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ but then we disbanded that system, thinking this would be more humane. There are so many grades of gray between perfectly normal and perfectly abnormal. That’s just very difficult for anyone to figure out at the end of the day. Modern medicine really doesn’t have much of an answer. What we have is a lot of desire to fix it because it hurts us, the regular people, when we see somebody living that way. It’s vexing.”
Brager agreed that the issue was not a cut-and-dried one, pointing out that homeless shelters and heating and cooling stations do exist.
“So, there are many places people can go, besides standing on a street corner,” she said. “Now, some people, it’s a mental health issue, but most of the time, for some, it’s a choice because there are programs like Family Promise. If you really want to get away from being homeless, and you’re a family, then you can (get back on your feet). You take certain steps along the way. You live in a church. You get into an apartment. You get a job. There are extraordinary things out there to help people if they want it. The problem is knowing who is homeless because they want to be, who is mentally (affected) and who wants help. Those who want help can get it.”
To report issues regarding panhandlers, call the Metropolitan Police Department’s nonemergency line at 311.
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.