weather icon Clear

Las Vegas homeless offered safe space to escape the cold — VIDEO

Less than an hour after the day shelter opened for the first time this winter, Las Vegas police dropped off a shivering man, a white sheet draped over his bare back.

The man with the grizzled beard wore only a thin pair of pants, and his dark skin was wrinkled with age.

But on Thursday morning, just hours after braving the valley’s overnight snowstorm, he was finally able to seek respite at the Salvation Army’s day shelter.

The nonprofit provided the man with clothes and a shower, and he was one of the first among the roughly 70 people who were welcomed to stay indoors Thursday at the shelter, which will also open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.

Those staying overnight usually must leave the shelter by 6 a.m.

The day shelter was made possible by the city of Las Vegas, which announced Wednesday night, just as the first flakes began to fall, that it would provide the nonprofit with additional sleeping mats for Wednesday and Thursday.

That meant the Salvation Army could fill its building adjacent to its existing shelter with more men and women.

“We didn’t have weather like this last year,” city spokesman Jace Radke said. “We provided places for the homeless to be able to go and stay warm and have a safe place.”

To keep the shelter open during the day, the city will reimburse the nonprofit $4,800 for the additional staff, Radke said. The city is also assisting the Las Vegas Rescue Mission by providing an additional security guard to open the cafeteria as a temporary shelter.

The Salvation Army’s existing building sleeps about 71 men and 35 women a night. Opening the adjacent building allowed the organization to more than double its occupancy, said Juan Salinas, its assistant director of social services.

“It’s somewhere to stay out of the elements, to come in and stay warm, not get wet outside in the freezing cold. It’s a sigh of relief,” Salinas said.

And the shelter did not have to turn anyone down.

“I was walking our campus last night, and I was freezing cold,” he said. “And I put myself in somebody else’s shoes, where they have nothing, and they’re out there, and they just have to live with it. That’s a tough thing.”

Though the temperatures were near freezing, the Las Vegas Fire Department responded to only two calls related to cold weather from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 p.m. Thursday, spokesman Tim Szymanski said.

“It was well around that freezing mark, but it’s when they get wet it tends to be a little problematic,” he said. “But they’re pretty well equipped. It’s when it gets below freezing for a number of days that we start seeing people be compromised.”

The Salvation Army’s temporary adjacent shelter used to be a day shelter years ago, and the nonprofit sometimes opens a day shelter during the hottest days of the summer.

The empty building is being converted into a second shelter with bunk beds to permanently serve more people in the near future, Salinas said.

On Thursday, the women and men were separated, as they always are, and watched movies as they kept out of the cold. They filed in quickly, and more than 400 came in for their daily community meal at 1:30 p.m.

“It’s amazing how fast word travels on the street,” said Leslee Rogers, spokeswoman for the nonprofit’s local chapter.

One man asked as he entered the shelter, “Do you have any more jackets?”

“Thank you for letting us in,” said Zachary Saucedo, a homeless man whose wife was staying at The Shade Tree shelter for women. They’re expecting their second child.

“I have no business being outside in this,” Saucedo added.

A man in black glasses who only wanted to be referred to as Booth, 33, volunteered his time taking out the trash at the Salvation Army shelter, where he stays every night.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, he and the others had to wake up and brave the cold before being allowed back in at 10 a.m.

“It’s pretty hurtful. It’s just rough,” he said of being in the cold. “The bushes turn into the bathroom, and it’s bitter. This is a safe haven.”

On the women’s side, Marci Herr sat, her brown and white Chihuahua-terrier mix named Penelope perched in her lap. Wrapped in a knit blanket, the puppy closed her eyes, finally getting some sleep after being in the cold.

At night, Herr said she’d stay at the Greyhound bus depot, shivering, her toes and fingers going numb.

“This dog right here, she is my support through this weather,” Herr said.

A glowing warmth

Another facet of the city’s efforts to keep the valley’s most vulnerable warm is the 32 heaters placed at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center on Foremaster Lane and Las Vegas Boulevard North.

The courtyard, a 24/7 facility that offers a place for homeless to sleep on mats and offers a number of services during the day, was lit Friday afternoon by the glow of the heaters.

“The snow, it prevents them from sleeping,” one security guard commented as he stood by. He usually watches the roughly 200 people who usually sleep at the courtyard.

On Thursday night, though, it wasn’t as crowded.

One man, basking in the radiation, used a metal can lid to spoon himself canned spaghetti. Another man drew pictures on the table. He wore nothing but a pair of slacks in the snow until a passer-by offered him a jean jacket.

“It’s cold, and I ain’t got no fur coat,” said Donald Rice, 56. “At night, we’re all packed like sardines, so it gets warmer.”

Nearby, a couple, who said they both have diabetes, shivered underneath their brown comforter. Charles Peterson and his pregnant fiancee, Edith, have been homeless for the past four months.

When it snowed Wednesday, they slept in the parking lot across from the neon-red Jerry’s Nugget sign. Cuddling as close as they could to each other, they tried their best to stay warm.

By Thursday afternoon, their soggy socks and shoes had kept their toes numb. Their teeth chattered with cold, their lips chapped and cracking.

“We’re not going to split ourselves up. We’d rather stay out in the cold and freeze a bit just to stay together,” said Charles Peterson, a Marine Corps veteran.

That morning, they ate at Catholic Charities. For the rest of the night, they’d eat chocolate bars and almond cookies and drink orange juice to keep their blood sugar up and remain energetic.

“We’ve got to rely on each other,” Peterson said. “We’re all homeless, and we’re all family.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
For more on current conditions in Las Vegas and forecasts, see the updated graphic below or go to our weather map.
Tony Hsieh honored on Fremont canopy in downtown Las Vegas

A tribute honoring the memory of Tony Hsieh was unveiled Saturday night on the Fremont Street Experience canopy. The former chief executive of online shoe seller Zappos died Friday at age 46 from injuries sustained in a house fire.

Tony Hsieh in Las Vegas — PHOTOS

From being the CEO of Zappos, to the driving force behind the downtown revitalization effort, Tony Hsieh had a profound impact on the city of Las Vegas.