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Police aim to address homeless problem with proactive program

The number of homeless people in the valley is growing, and so is the difficulty in combat ing the problem, according to Metropolitan Police Department's homeless liaison, Annie Wilson.

"The biggest struggle is finding (where) to place them, such as in shelters or substance abuse programs," Wilson said. "It's hard to convince them to come (into) a shelter and change their behavior. Sometimes, you have to take them by the hand through the process."

Wilson works with the police department in placing the area's homeless in shelters or obtaining medical help, depending on the situation. She also leads weekly outreach events that usually involve distributing food at The Salvation Army, 1581 N. Main St., and bimonthly meetings with representatives from organizations throughout the valley.

During an Aug. 7 Corridor of Hope meeting at the Metropolitan Police Department's Downtown Area Command, 621 N. Ninth St., Wilson addressed about a dozen people from area businesses and nonprofit groups who shared her goal of combating homelessness.

"Where's our target area?" Wilson asked them. "Where can we address these problems?"

Wilson identifies several areas in the valley where homelessness is prevalent, specifically in the Corridor of Hope near the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Owens Avenue and at James Gay III Park on the corner of Owens Avenue and B Street.

Wilson aims to provide emergency shelter to those who need it most, but it's nearly impossible, she said, without the help of other organizations.

"It helps working with (these agencies) because it doesn't duplicate services," Wilson said. "If one program doesn't have funding to get (someone) a Nevada I D , another program will have it. It's all about getting them off the street."

Wilson said she typically tries to catch those who are in danger of being arrested during the early-morning hours. From there, she calls organizations such as Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Rescue Mission to put them in a "Metro bed," which is designated for homeless people she or police find in need of emergency housing.

When representatives from these and other organizations convene at the Corridor of Hope meetings, Wilson informs them of outreach opportunities, from helping with food distribution at The Salvation Army to a bus trip in the works so nonprofit group leaders can learn more about areas of homelessness and resources available to them. More important , she said, giving these representatives an opportunity to share information on what programs and shelters are available provides a better understanding of the homeless population's primary concerns.

Karen Lewis, community outreach coordinator for the Las Vegas Urban League's veteran services program, is among these representatives. Lewis said collaborating with area nonprofit groups is a vital component of tackling the valley's homeless issue.

"I think the community among nonprofits has really increased," Lewis said. "The goal with the county and the city is to get (homeless) off the streets by 2015. The intention is to maintain stability to prevent homelessness, and I think with (nonprofits), it works."

Lewis works specifically with homeless veterans and their families and said many of her clients are unaware of the valleywide resources available. She said increasing this awareness through the joint efforts of nonprofit groups is the key to educating homeless individuals.

Wilson said providing information to the homeless she encounters is a two-way street.

"It's not just about educating them. They're educating me on resources they've used in the past," Wilson said. "Once they find out about these programs, it gets around through word of mouth. It's already stressful enough to be homeless. That's why collaboration with organizations is so important."

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at or 383-4686.