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Ceremony brings tears, laughter

Not long after Shannon West was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly three years ago, she threw a going away party for her breasts, complete with a big “boob cake.”

So it surprised no one that the ceremony to rename a downtown shelter after the local social services icon brought as much laughter as tears.

“Shannon can party,” Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said. “I would’ve thought they would have named a nightclub” after her.

West, 43, recently retired for health reasons from her job as the county’s regional homeless services coordinator. On Friday, the shelter for homeless youth at Foremaster Lane and Las Vegas Boulevard was officially renamed the HELP of Southern Nevada Shannon West Homeless Youth Center.

The event drew current and former public officials and social services leaders, along with West’s family and friends and young residents of the facility, one of whom read a poem he had written in her honor.

Over the course of her roughly five years as coordinator, West gained a reputation for being both a fighter and a uniter. Her position entailed figuring out the wisest way to spend money designated for fighting homelessness, coordinating homeless outreach efforts in local jurisdictions, and sometimes trudging through homeless encampments trying to talk to people into shelters.

She has been credited with helping make friends of valley homeless services providers who sometimes engaged in turf wars.

Darryl Martin, former Clark County assistant manager, said West was the one person capable of bringing together jurisdictions that didn’t like each other most of the time.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said he has always appreciated West’s willingness to be completely honest about the valley’s homeless problem.

“She tells the truth,” Goodman said.

Former Clark County Manager Thom Reilly fought back tears as he spoke about West.

“It’s hard to see the challenges Shannon is facing,” he said. “Las Vegas is definitely a better place” because of her.

West previously served as an assistant director of the county’s parks and community services department. She also managed the county’s Neighborhood Justice Center and helped establish the Southern Nevada Gang Task Force and other community programs.

From a wheelchair at the event, West spoke about a young gang member she once worked with who turned his life around but lacked a stable home life and wound up getting killed.

“I swore that day I would do everything in my power to make sure that never happened to another child,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any greater honor than having this center named after me.”

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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