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Project Aqua aims to provide shelters that police won’t confiscate

Lynn Boland talks with a woman living in the homeless encampment on Bonanza Road across from the Las Vegas Rescue Mission.

The homeless woman, Linda Freeman, informs Boland that police officers had just come by to clear out the area.

“It’s just like a raid,” Boland said, her voice becoming quick and unsettled. “See, this is what we’re talking about. Rapid response comes in, forces everyone out and takes their tents.”

Freeman said she was unsure about what to do. She has nowhere else to go, and the officers said they would be back at 2 p.m. to arrest anyone who was still there, she said.

Boland is the co-founder of Project Aqua, a group determined to improve the lives of homeless people in Las Vegas.

Partnered with the local nonprofit United Movement Organized Kindness, Boland acquired four mobile shelter units from Everyone Deserves A Roof, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles.

The four mobile shelter units were donated to United Movement Organized Kindness, and together with Boland, the team is selecting recipients. The team will survey the recipients and provide feedback to Everyone Deserves A Roof to help with future mobile shelter unit designs.

“These (units) aren’t the final answer,” Boland said. “They’re a start. It’s something other than a shelter, which some people — especially women — are not comfortable with.”

Erma Hernandez is 53 and has lived on the streets since she was 8. Her parents died when she was 2, and the Navajo was taken off the reservation and placed into foster care. Hernandez’s foster parents physically abused her, and at 8, she was raped by her foster father, she said. She ran away.

For the last six years, Hernandez has lived on the streets of Las Vegas. She often camped out along Bonanza Road in a tent until Metropolitan Police Department officers recently confiscated it, she said.

The Saturday before Easter, Boland and her team gave Hernandez the first mobile shelter unit. At $500 a piece, the units are thick canvass cots on wheels with a shelter overhead — half shopping cart, half tent. It is waterproof and fire proof, according to the organization’s website.

“I can move around easy,” Hernandez said. “They helped me a lot.”

The group now must find three more recipients, which is not easy , according to Peter Politis, president and co-founder of United Movement Organized Kindness .

“I’m interested in seeing what happens ,” Politis said. “This is a delicate situation . We only have the three left. If there were more, we wouldn’t be so hesitant to give them out.”

Politis’ organization is legally responsible for the units, per a contract signed with Everyone Deserves A Roof.

Boland is hoping that fact will provide the user with greater legitimacy when dealing with the police.

“They’re more substantial and proprietary than a shopping cart or a tent,” she said of the mobile shelter unit, which has the local nonprofit’s name and phone number written on the front. “I’ve called Metro and told them about the project … Hopefully, the police will be less likely to just toss it.”

For Boland, the units are temporary, meant to be one step in helping the homeless back on their feet.

“If the goal is to keep someone in this situation alive for one more day, then this is the solution,” she said.

Freeman, affected by osteoporosis, has been homeless since her husband died in 2011 and is a potential recipient of a mobile shelter unit.

Boland and her team plan to interview Freeman to make sure she will not leave town with the unit, pawn or lose it.

“It would really help,” Freeman said.

The team hopes to obtain more of the units or possibly replicate them.

“The homeless are criminalized for not having a place to go,” Boland said. “If someone can’t fit into the system, they’re expected to disappear. We need to address the basic needs of people on the street, and this project is a step in the right direction.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at nlister@viewnews.com or 702-383-0492.

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