Homeless kids, vets declining

You may have heard the bad news: Nearly 2,000 more people are homeless in Southern Nevada this year than two years ago — hardly a surprise given the state’s double-digit unemployment rate.

But a few nuggets of good news were sprinkled through the results of a January homeless count released Thursday.

Fewer veterans and unaccompanied children are without a home in Clark County than in 2007, according to the 2009 Southern Nevada Homeless Census.

The number of homeless veterans fell to 2,262 from 2,321, while the number of children who are homeless without other family members fell to 209 from 280.

The smaller numbers stem from stepped-up efforts to get homeless veterans into housing and to get homeless, unaccompanied children into foster care faster, said Shannon West, regional homeless services coordinator for the county.

U.S. Vets, a shelter for homeless veterans at Bonanza Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, increased its street outreach efforts in recent years and concentrated on filling every available bed, said Shalimar Cabrera, site director for the agency.

“We saw the trend,” Cabrera said. “We were seeing more people out there needing to get in.”

U.S. Vets has 118 beds for veterans transitioning out of homelessness, 17 beds for disabled homeless veterans and 126 affordable housing beds for veterans. The agency filled its entire shelter for the first time just last year, Cabrera said.

West credited the county’s Department of Family Services for much of the decrease in the number of unaccompanied homeless youth. Child Haven, the county’s emergency shelter for children, has worked in recent years to decrease the amount of time children spend in the shelter before being placed with family members or in foster care.

Children staying at Child Haven are considered homeless, while those in foster care are not.

State lawmakers and county officials have pumped substantial resources into the county’s child welfare system since the 2007 legislative session to fix widespread problems that put children at risk, including adding more than 200 positions to reduce caseloads, one of the main problems.

“There’s definitely been a change in the way we do business,” said Christine Skorupski, a spokeswoman for the Department of Family Services.

While the average number of children coming to Child Haven hasn’t changed — it’s still about 300 a month — the number who stay more than a few hours has decreased dramatically, Skorupski said.

“In the summer of 2006, we had 230 children and had to set up cots in the gym” to house them all, she said.

Wednesday, only 24 children were staying at the shelter.

The number of families who are homeless together was not available on Thursday.

Overall, the number of homeless people in Clark County spiked from 11,417 in 2007 to 13,338 in 2009.

The No. 1 reason people listed for being homeless is because of a lost job.

Increases also were seen in the numbers of severely mentally ill homeless and homeless who were chronic substance abusers.

“The numbers are in and they’re not good,” County Commissioner Rory Reid said during a Thursday morning press conference to announce results of the count.

But Reid emphasized another bright side to the count results: More homeless people are living in shelters and transitional housing and fewer are on the streets in the county this year.

The number of “street homeless” decreased about 19 percent, while the number of sheltered homeless grew 82 percent.

Reid credited local governments and nonprofits, who have been pooling their efforts to steer more homeless people into shelters and programs that can help get them off the streets, for the changes.

“We can’t control the national economy,” he said. “What we can control is what we do as a community. It’s a significant achievement, I think, in this economy to reduce the number of people living on our streets.”

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

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