Residents displaced by the Alpine Motel Apartments fire in downtown Las Vegas three weeks ago will not be turned out on the streets with the end of temporary housing assistance provided by the city. But many say they are struggling to find long-term solutions in a region where affordable housing is in short supply.
An agreement to continue to provide shelter and work with those whose lives were upended by the deadliest residential fire in Las Vegas history, which killed six people and injured 13 others on Dec. 21, was worked out late last week by the city and Clark County.
“We’ve worked together since the beginning,” city spokesman Jace Radke said. “The city provided funding for housing through Jan. 11, and the folks are working with their case workers if they need additional assistance past that.”
County spokesman Dan Kulin said by email that the two governments will continue to provide shelter for 13 households consisting of 24 adults and kids, with the county assisting eight of the households and the city continuing to help five.
Assistance includes rent payments, bus passes and new IDs.
“As the assistance and needs for each household vary, the duration of the assistance will also vary, and so there is no deadline or general timeline for all the cases,” Kulin said.
The number of residents receiving housing assistance has been nearly cut in half over the weeks from an initial 46 individuals.
Some of those residents have found long-term shelter, either in rental units or by moving in with friends or relatives, while others declined assistance or did not apply for it, Kulin said.
Other residents may have left the area or decided to fend for themselves. American Red Cross spokeswoman Jenny Sparks said the nonprofit assisted 70 residents immediately after the fire and knew of one other resident they were unable to contact.
Those who are still receiving government assistance are currently scattered across properties around the Las Vegas Valley.
Owner aids some who fled
Others are staying at other complexes owned by Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC, the company that owns the Alpine.
Dominic Gentile, an attorney representing Dragon Hotel managing partner Adolfo Orozco, said his client has used vacant units at other properties he owns to help about 37 displaced residents at his expense.
“There were 39 occupied rooms at the Alpine at the day of the fire and as many as we can take were housed in other properties,” he told the Review-Journal, adding that the owner is willing to make deals with other properties to house more people to prevent residents from becoming homeless if necessary.
Those who have been unable to find a new place to live say their lack of financial resources and strict rental and income requirements forced them to live at the Alpine in the first place.
“Places, they want you to have two times the amount of rent, application fees, deposit,” said Audrey Palmer, 56, who had lived at the Alpine with her wife, Helen Clark, since 2012. “If they just gave us a little break, you know? It’s hard when you have nothing and you’ve got to start over.”
The couple have been staying at the Siegel Suites off Swenson Street and Flamingo Road while Clark recovers from a fractured shoulder suffered jumping out a window the night of the fire. Palmer said they were afraid they were going to be left homeless once the city’s housing assistance ended.
“But last night, my case worker called me and said, ‘You know we’re not going to put you out on the street, right?’ ” she said.
Nonetheless, not knowing where they will end up is grating on the couple.
“It’s hell on me right now,” Palmer said, sitting next to a table with an open Bible and a slew of prescription medications.
A lucky few of the displaced have found alternatives through the generosity of donors.
Tia Dotson, 42, who said she managed to salvage a few important documents before fleeing out the front door at the Alpine, picked up keys Friday to her new apartment, a studio at Share Village Las Vegas on Fremont Street.
After the deadly fire, Arnold Stalk, founder of Share Village, the nonprofit until recently known as Veterans Village, announced plans to add 150 affordable housing units and open the master-planned community to nonveterans.
Stalk’s organization received a $3,000 donation and matched it to help fire victims get stable and obtain housing.
‘Out of ashes comes rebirth’
Dotson, who is Palmer’s cousin, has a six-month lease on the unit, which she will share with her fiance and her 10-year-old daughter. It has heat, which she said her unit at the Alpine did not, as well a slow cooker and a microwave.
She said it is a big step up from the Starlite Motel, also owned by Dragon Hotel, where they lived for a short time after the Alpine blaze.
“If something catches fire, burns, eventually it regrows, and it’s usually nine times prettier than what it was when it started,” she said. “That’s kind of how I’m looking at it, out of ashes comes rebirth.”
Jimmy Lacy, 29, and his girlfriend, Dayshena Thomas, are staying at Siegel Suites off Twain Avenue with Thomas’ 7-year-old son, Andru. They are still actively searching for the next place to go.
Thomas said they stayed at the Alpine for six months after Lacy lost his job, just getting by on her $750 monthly Social Security disability check, which was only $50 more than their rent. They toughed it out even though the sink was stopped up and would regularly overflow with moldy water.
“We were all normal working people. We just didn’t have the money to live in a better place,” she said. “You can only afford what you can afford.
“We have very good rental history once we get in a place,” she continued. “We’re just trying to find someone that is willing to work with us.”
A find on Facebook
Some people were able to find that break.
Christina Farinella, 42, and her her fiance, Jason Casteel, last weekend moved into a guesthouse with their downstairs neighbor from the Alpine.
They found the 500-square foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom guesthouse through Facebook and moved in last weekend. The total rent is $1,100.
“We were at that point for a minute where we didn’t know where to go. Every other place is an application fee, first month’s (rent), last month’s and a deposit,” Farinella said.
“When you’re in a panic situation like what we were in, you stay cool and go with your gut.”
Others have turned to family or friends to get by in the short term.
Paul Wise, 75, said he was up in the early morning hours the Saturday of the fire, reading his Bible in his first-floor apartment at the Alpine, when he saw the black smoke billowing through his door. The longtime Alpine resident first stayed at the owner’s Economy Motel on Fremont Street before moving in with a friend and renting a room.
“That was a blessing,” he said. “I’m OK for now, but nothing lasts forever.”