“Do you want water?” Mindy Torres shouted as she walked through a homeless encampment near U.S. Highway 95 and Boulder Highway on Wednesday morning.
It was shortly before 9 a.m. and the temperature, expected to reach 104 degrees for the day, was already approaching unbearable.
“It’s hot,” said John Brown, 40, who took seven water bottles from Torres. “It’s been kind of rough.”
Brown was one of about 10 homeless people living at the encampment. Some emerged from their tents when they heard Torres, a homeless services program manager at HELP of Southern Nevada. The nonprofit sends caseworkers throughout Clark County year-round with water bottles. Their purpose: to engage the homeless and maybe convince them to seek help with finding permanent housing.
This is the second summer that the nonprofit joined with Whole Foods Market and Real Water, a local water business, to get local residents to donate water bottles from June 1 to Aug. 31 to help the homeless during the summer heat.
“We just try to survive,” said Michael Miller, 55, outside the tent he shares with his wife, Valerie, 59. “It’s dangerous out here.”
Miller had used 50 cents he had to buy two gallons of water, which he hoped would last for the day. He was grateful for the extra water. The two became homeless about 10 months ago, after they both lost their jobs.
“We are victims of a bad economy,” he said. “We never thought we would be here.”
When people talk about the jobless rate, they should talk about the homeless rate, Miller said, because when people don’t have a job, they don’t’ have money to pay rent and end up on the streets.
However, in the middle of a slow economic recovery, the 2013 Southern Nevada Homeless Census and Survey released in June showed that people living on the streets throughout Clark County dropped by 22 percent in the last two years.
That might be because homeless people are not always easy to identify, said Abby Quinn, community outreach director with HELP of Southern Nevada.
They might be staying with family or relatives, Quinn said. “The face of homelessness has changed so much.”
The Millers agree.
“We were just like everyone else,” said Valerie Miller from inside the couple’s tent.
“A full-time job,” is Michael Miller’s one wish. The two don’t need much more than that to have a roof over their heads.
“We are still pretty much in love. I couldn’t do it without her,” Miller said before becoming emotional and going inside the tent. He was a cook and his wife worked as a cashier before they became homeless.
At the next stop, known as the Corridor of Hope — on B Street and Owens Avenue — close to a dozen men walked up to get water. Torres and Ed Vega, treatment coordinator with HELP of Southern Nevada, walked through the area distributing bottles and passing out cards with numbers to call if they want more assistance.
Fred Clayton, 65, said he was going to try to make his water last all day. “It might be the only water bottle” for the day, he said.
When caseworkers go out to try to get homeless people into housing, sometimes the people they are trying to help are not ready, Quinn said.
When that’s the case “you need to leave them in the best shape you can” by providing them water.
Judy Swart, 70, who goes by “Sugar,” on Wednesday accepted a water bottle, but rejected the opportunity to be placed in permanent housing. “Maybe I’m afraid,” she said.
Stanley Dziewanowski, 61, didn’t think about it twice. Torres called a caseworker to pick him up.
“I’ll love to have my own apartment,” he said.
Last fiscal year, the nonprofit provided services to more than 2,000 homeless people and about 400 of them were placed in permanent housing, Torres said. The rate of them returning to the streets is low. The main requirement for being eligible for assistance is committing to a plan that includes counseling and treatment.
“They have to be totally non-compliant for us to give up,” she said.
Contact Yesenia Amaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.