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Life is Beautiful for some, not so much for uprooted homeless

Las Vegas city streets will turn into a blowout celebration of music, arts and food for a three-day stretch starting Friday, but the scene Life is Beautiful revelers will see is in stark contrast to the lives of those who dwell on the city’s streets.

When an 18-block area of downtown Las Vegas is closed off for the massive annual festival, some of the local homeless people are “de-homed,” and “we kind of have to re-home them,” Festival Community Relations Manager Corey Fagan said last week.

Homeless people won’t be staying in the footprint of the three-day downtown music and arts festival that kicks off Friday, when an 18-block area of downtown is gated and fenced off for the festival.

More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the festival, and homeless people who might normally stay somewhere within that area of downtown that’s gated off for stages, tents, art and festival ticket-holders need to find somewhere else to go.

For some, that might mean Foremaster Lane and Main Street, where a number of homeless people already live. Some call it the “Corridor of Hope,” because of a cluster of shelters and social services providers in that area, rather than its other moniker — “the homeless corridor.”

The number of people living in that area have been noticeably higher over the past several days, according to some of the people who work or stay in that area. And that can create complications.

There might be multiple reasons for the rising numbers, but Marianne Grochol, who is homeless and a volunteer at the CARE Complex on Foremaster, an organization that provides services to homeless people, said she has heard about people specifically coming to the area from downtown.

Grochol has observed some increased tension on Foremaster in the past week or so, because some of the people who have lived there for a while view people coming from other parts of Las Vegas as “outsiders” or “troublemakers,” which results in more fights and more problems, Grochol said.

A fight broke out there on Saturday where some men chased others down the street with baseball bats, Grochol said.

“It feels like people are being herded into this one particular area, and we don’t know if people are going to stay around, if they’re just going to stay for the event or if they’re going to repopulate to the part of town where they currently reside,” Grochol said.

GOLDEN TICKET

The juxtaposition of Life Is Beautiful with the local homeless population downtown led Fagan to communicate with local social services providers to create an event with amenities for homeless people aimed at “giving each person the tools needed to get back on their feet,” she said. That event will start at 8 a.m. Tuesday on Foremaster Lane.

“What do we do? How do we give back to them?” Fagan said. “That’s how this project was sparked.”

A news release announcing that event, coined the “Lighting Hope Project,” said Life Is Beautiful and the Metropolitan Police Department’s downtown area command would be relocating people from the downtown festival grid to Foremaster for the event, which will include a breakfast, job fair, haircuts, mobile showers, a detox bed and resources for homeless people who need help with identification documents.

Metro’s homeless liaison, Annie Wilson, emphasized that the intent of the event isn’t to displace people, but to bring together services where many homeless people are.

A cleanup Monday morning was preparing the property at the corner of Foremaster and Main for the Tuesday event. That lot, and others on Foremaster, are separated from the sidewalk and street by bars, but the lots can become caked with debris that’s flung over the fence — trash, unwanted food, feces and personal hygiene products.

Meanwhile, artists brought in by Life Is Beautiful painted a mural on the Foremaster-facing building that sits on the corner lot where the event will be held.

Life Is Beautiful gave CARE Complex Operations Manager Mat Ellis a number of what they’ve labeled “golden tickets” to give out to homeless people for services at the Tuesday morning event. Ellis’ organization, which is on Foremaster, held another cleanup in the area Saturday morning, and homeless people who participated were given access to services in return, such as bus passes, and the “golden tickets” for Tuesday’s event.

Allen Wiseman, who is living on the sidewalk on Foremaster, said he helped to clean up the lot Monday morning. He was keeping his “golden ticket” in his wallet. The tickets are for “extra amenities and a pass to the haircut line.”

Wiseman wasn’t bothered by the idea that homeless people couldn’t stay within the festival area during Life Is Beautiful, because Las Vegas is a tourist city and “people don’t want to be bothered with panhandling,” he said.

Brigham Roberts was looking forward to Tuesday’s event and called it “wonderful,” but questioned the type of message it sends if homeless people aren’t downtown around the festival during the event, because they may encounter people in the downtown area then who would help them, he said.

“Just to say go somewhere else and be homeless?” Roberts said. “That’s not a good look for America or Las Vegas.”

Merideth Spriggs, whose charity, Caridad, aims to connect homeless people to resources, saw firsthand the type of barriers — literally — closing off a section of the city can create for homeless people.

Spriggs previously worked with the Downtown Rangers doing homeless outreach, and said that in the past when parts of the city were closed for Life Is Beautiful earlier than expected, the homeless people she was working with couldn’t get to her for their appointments.

If they didn’t have a phone they couldn’t contact her, so she tried to meet them somewhere outside the festival perimeter. Even as an employee, it was sometimes a hassle for Spriggs to get back inside the perimeter to work, she said.

Life Is Beautiful had a similar event for homeless people in 2015, when they served 377 people in a three-hour period. Fagan expected an increase Tuesday morning, maybe as many as 500 people, she said.

Marianne Grochol said she thinks the event is a good thing, but she hopes it has a lasting effect and brings needed attention to the Foremaster area.

“Hopefully people will pay more attention after this event to the people who are on the street, where they went, where they’ve come from, where they sleep, how they sleep, do they have access to jobs?” Grochol said. “More than the cosmetic — ‘this event is going to bring food and amenities.’”

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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