When Norton Burton tried to dash through a back entrance to the city of Las Vegas’ homeless Courtyard on Wednesday morning to try to catch a bus, an operations worker blocked his path.
“You can’t come through here,” he told Burton. “You have to go around.”
When Burton insisted, the worker turned to call security, giving the older man wearing an Army veteran hat an opportunity to rush by and jaywalk across the street in time to catch a Regional Transportation Commission bus at the intersection on Foremaster Lane.
“They weren’t going to let me go, but I’m handicapped,” he said as he hurried across the street, lifting his shirt to show a colostomy bag. “I had cancer. I’ve had my colon removed. I had to go, so I thought, ‘I’m going anyway.’”
Burton was one of hundreds of people staying at the city-run homeless shelter inconvenienced this week when workers began installing a gate blocking Foremaster at Las Vegas Boulevard North, a $175,000 project funded through a community development grant that is expected to be completed in mid-November.
The gate, which has no pedestrian access, forces Courtyard residents who would normally walk about 250 feet to adjacent bus stops to walk around the block on Main Street and circle back to Las Vegas Boulevard. Now the trip is nearly half a mile and takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
Concern about ‘safety issues’
The gate was installed because of “safety issues with homeless individuals spilling onto Las Vegas Boulevard from overcrowded sidewalks,” city spokesman Jace Radke said. “This has created unsafe conditions.”
It’s also intended to block vehicles from traveling along Foremaster through the congested area, a route used by an average of 550 vehicles on weekdays, according to a city study on traffic in the area.
For handicapped residents like Jesus Murillo, who uses a wheelchair, making their way up the incline on Foremaster to the bus stops is more than a minor inconvenience.
“If I go up and around there by myself, I have to take breaks,” said Murillo, 35, who said he already has to get up at 4 a.m. to take the bus to his dialysis appointments.
As Murillo spoke, a man with a titanium prosthesis on his right leg and using a walker limped by going up the hill. Another, with cast boots on both legs, wasn’t too far behind. Nearby, Las Vegas police officers on patrol directed a white SUV trying to cut through the street to turn around.
“We asked security guards if we could use the gate over there because I’m in a wheelchair and everything,” Murillo said, pointing to the back entrance of the courtyard on North Las Vegas Boulevard. “… (My wife) told them I came from dialysis. I was really tired. I can’t push myself. But they said no.”
‘An adjustment period’
Radke attributed the refusal to a miscommunication with security, as disabled clients and families are allowed to use the back gate, while able-bodied residents must use the Main Street entrance and make the hike.
“This is a change, it’s new for everybody, there’s going to be an adjustment period for everybody,” he added.
The gate was approved by the City Council in August 2018 and is part of the master plan of the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center development. Construction on the $15 million open-air, 24/7 facility is expected to begin next year.
The project was initially budgeted for $45,000 but the cost nearly quadrupled because emergency service providers, who frequently respond to calls in the Courtyard area, and law enforcement required the ability to automatically raise the gate, Radke said.
Nearby service providers are worried that the gate will discourage the homeless from accessing services at the Courtyard.
“Putting up gates and herding them like cattle is not the answer,” said Deacon Tom Roberts, CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, which is on the other side of Foremaster from the Courtyard.
He said he worries the gate will stir up unrest.
“We’re already vulnerable to violence in this part of town … The gate is already agitating people and they’re trying to jump the fence,” he said.
“It’s a little befuddling to me because we’re obviously here to get people where they need to be and I think the Courtyard is supposed to do that. But (the gate) is an impediment for people trying to get along.”