The first phase of a new project where homeless people can access a range of services is on track to open early next year in Las Vegas.
City officials haven’t said much publicly about the campus proposal since the City Council approved it in May, but an advisory group has been meeting regularly to lay the groundwork for the new courtyard in the “Corridor of Hope,” where shelters and service providers are clustered.
Salvation Army Major Randy Kinnamon was skeptical at first of the idea of moving homeless people to an outdoor courtyard, but he has come to support the plan.
“I thought it was too bad we can’t find indoor housing for those homeless people. But if we do nothing, then you have people pitching tents on sidewalks and driveways and along fences,” Kinnamon said. “They’ll still be outdoors, but you get people to a safer place. They’re not going to get mugged, and you can connect them to case management services.”
The corridor in Las Vegas is host to widespread street homelessness — tents and makeshift shelters fashioned from blankets or towels dot the area.
The small stretch of Foremaster Lane near Las Vegas Boulevard is envisioned as a safe area where homeless people can find temporary shelter and an entry point for a wide range of services: medical care, housing, counseling, legal services and employment. The initial phase that’s pegged to open in March will be a temporary courtyard with security, shade structures, a day room and portable restrooms. An outreach team will encourage people living on the street to seek services at the courtyard. A permanent courtyard with offices for service providers will be built over the next two years at a cost of approximately $15 million.
Idea borrowed from San Antonio
The Las Vegas plan is modeled after San Antonio’s Haven for Hope campus. Local elected officials, law enforcement and homeless service providers traveled to Texas earlier this year to research the concept.
Kinnamon is co-chairing the advisory group alongside Councilman Ricki Barlow, who represents the area. Other service providers and business owners sit on that panel.
The city faced criticism from service providers in the spring for leaving them out of the planning process. Since then, the panel has been meeting and weighing in on the city’s plans.
The service providers want to make sure the courtyard addresses underlying issues like mental health and substance abuse right from the start, Kinnamon said.
The city is readying a request for proposals for operating and staffing the courtyard, and it will be sent out for bids in the coming weeks, Community Services Director Steve Harsin said.
“There will be intense triage to get these people to the next step, whether it’s shelter beds or bridge housing,” Harsin said. “It’s not ‘I can hang out in the courtyard for the next three years.’”
Las Vegas/Clark County ranks in the top 10 nationally for unsheltered homeless, alongside larger cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Diego. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2016 annual homeless assessment report pegged the number of homeless people in Las Vegas/Clark County at 5,851 last year. The homeless count in San Francisco was 6,309, and Chicago had 3,721 homeless individuals.
‘Good first step’
Kinnamon called the courtyard project a “good first step,” but he thinks the key to curbing the number of homeless people in Las Vegas is more supportive housing options.
The city of Las Vegas will build out the courtyard and add services after the startup phase launches next year. The city has funding for the campus startup and build-out, but it needs to find another funding source for operations beyond 2019.
“I think it’s fantastic, but it’s also very ambitious and would take a lot to get going,” said Glenn Trowbridge, executive director for the Care Complex, a homeless service provider on Foremaster Lane.
Homeless people can go there for a range of services, but on a smaller scale than what city officials are eyeing for the courtyard. Separate closets for men and women have clothes that can be worn to a job interview or to keep warm. Hundreds of lockers line a back room where homeless people can put their things while they’re out looking for a job, or just so they’re not stolen.
The Care Complex sees as many as 200 people a day, many of whom are looking for help getting a bus pass, a Nevada identification or a birth certificate.
“They need to re-establish themselves,” Trowbridge said.