When the new Las Vegas Ward 5 City Council member is seated next month it will be a couple weeks away from the launch of a 24/7 courtyard aimed at connecting the homeless population with a range of services.
The new council member will represent the Corridor of Hope, where the courtyard sits, homeless shelters are clustered and where encampments often rise on sidewalks and vacant lots.
“I think it’s a move in the right direction, and I think it will be successful,” said Ward 5 council hopeful Joe Mitchell, who has worked in the ward’s City Council office since 2013. “This is the first step in the direction where the city is leading.”
Mitchell is one of 11 candidates in the March 27 special election.
Las Vegas has been operating the courtyard, at Foremaster Lane and Las Vegas Boulevard, during the day for a year. When the around-the-clock operation begins in May, it will give homeless people an area to sleep in an open-air but secure setting. Services range from job fairs to showers to health care.
City officials have dedicated grant dollars to the homeless campus, but the project is expected to hit an operational funding shortfall a year or two after its launch. City officials are banking on private investors funneling money toward the courtyard. The city needs to incentivize the private sector “to be involved in this long-term,” Mitchell said.
Walter Jones III said in a recent candidate forum that the city should pursue a regional effort.
“We need to speak with Clark County, with North Las Vegas,” Jones said. “Ward 5 is unique, it’s right there between everybody. We need to step up and get with those entities.”
Candidate Patricia Messinger, a real estate agent, is on board with the city’s plan for a courtyard, she said.
“We have to get behind them,” Messinger said. “I’m praying to God it moves forward and doesn’t get stopped again.”
Cedric Crear, a Las Vegas planning commissioner and council candidate, questioned how the courtyard on Foremaster Lane would help areas like F Street, outside the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, and other areas where homeless encampments appear.
“We need to have people trained, ready to take jobs. We need to bring training for these jobs into the ward,” Crear said.
Las Vegas/Clark County ranked eighth last year among major U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest homeless populations, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual report on homelessness, the smallest city in the top 10. Roughly 67 percent of homeless people in the region are unsheltered.
Candidate Shondra Summers-Armstrong emphasized the need to address substance abuse and mental illness.
“We do have an obligation to help,” Summers-Armstrong said.
Council contender and former assemblyman Harvey Munford suggested addressing homelessness needs to expand beyond West Las Vegas.
“There’s really no panacea to solve the homeless problem immediately,” Munford said, adding that people dropping food off on the street helps foster homelessness.
If elected, Sheila Collins would work with private entities to focus on job creation, while also working to address mental health offerings for the homeless, she said.
One mistake people often make is assuming most homeless people are “one type of person,” dealing with the same problems, candidate Randy Voyard said.
“I would hope that whatever solutions are proposed, they’re tailored to what kind of homeless person you’re trying to help,” Voyard said. “I think it’s a mistake to accommodate homelessness as a lifestyle.”
Timothy Hicks, a general contractor who is running for the seat, suggested at a candidate forum Saturday a multi-pronged approach with more housing, training and facilities for homeless people.
The Ward 5 seat has been vacant since late January, when former councilman Ricki Barlow resigned and pleaded guilty to misuse of campaign funds. Barlow chaired an advisory committee on the courtyard project. Candidates Curtis Coleman and Shannon Hopkins couldn’t be reached for comment.