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Las Vegas pivots on outdoor homeless shelter during heat wave

In the middle of a record heat wave, where temperatures have remained blistering overnight, an outdoor shelter for homeless people in Las Vegas is not working.

City officials on Sunday night encouraged those sleeping in the city’s open-air Courtyard Homeless Resource Center to move indoors to the Dula Community Center, offering free transportation as they sought to address the latest crisis facing the homeless.

“When we started to see that the cooling off was not happening at night, especially with this particular heat wave, is when we decided to take a different course of action,” Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher, the city’s community resources manager, told reporters Monday.

There were 86 people who slept inside the Dula Community Center on Sunday night, but officials were prepared for up to 300 on Monday, she said.

The courtyard, the city’s outdoor homeless shelter that hosts services, has also acted as one of the city’s daytime cooling stations during extreme heat advisories such as the one Monday. But the onslaught of severe weather has been too much for its shade and mist-blowing industrial fans, even though Bluitt-Fisher said they drop outdoor temperatures 20 degrees.

Las Vegas tied its all-time high temperature of 117 degrees on Saturday evening and highs were expected to continue to soar over triple digits through the week, according to the National Weather Service, including overnight lows in the high 80s.

‘It’s just not safe’

It was unclear Monday how long the Dula Community Center would remain open as an alternative cooling station for courtyard regulars. Bluitt-Fisher said the city would evaluate next steps on a case-by-case basis.

“We really want to encourage people to get out of the heat and go to a place where they can be cool because it’s just not safe to be out on the street in this extreme heat,” she said.

There were workers at the courtyard Monday letting people know they could be shuttled to the community center, and city marshals were driving people as well, according to Bluitt-Fisher. Public safety outreach teams were surveying the broader courtyard area to encourage others.

Still, a little more than 150 people stayed at the courtyard on Sunday night, a reminder that the community center is merely an option.

Sheila Matas, one of many inside the crowded Dula gymnasium Monday, said she has seen several people get sick at the courtyard during the current heat wave.

In the past week, the Las Vegas Fire Department responded to two heat-related calls at the courtyard — both on July 8, according to spokesman Tim Szymanski.

Both victims were taken to the hospital for observation, he said.

Matas, 58, claimed that two people recently died from heat just outside the courtyard’s confines on Las Vegas Boulevard.

“The heat is killing people,” she said, holding a worn plush dog she called “Pinky.” “This is no joke anymore.”

Lasting solution required, ACLU says

With heat exposure a recurring issue confronting the homeless each summer in Southern Nevada, the city’s decision to temporarily move people from the courtyard only “underscores the need to better invest in longterm solutions to this crisis,” according to ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah.

Matas said she has spent three summers at the courtyard, which she criticized for having warm drinking water, hot air-cooling and overall “horrible” living conditions.

Bluitt-Fisher said that the courtyard, however, runs through 10 to 12 pallets of water bottles every week to keep people hydrated and, because it is given out so quickly, the bottles may not have had adequate time in ice.

For now, the full slate of services offered at the courtyard, which includes case management and a health clinic, are being directed to the community center, she said.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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