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Sunrise/Whitney View reader Martin Dean Dupalo, who blogs at speakingofdupalo.wordpress.com, shares his experiences volunteering with a June 12 Clark County homeless counting and outreach effort.
A man sleeping in a makeshift hammock in the Sunrise Manor area was among the homeless people encountered during a June 12 homeless count.
Scraps of wood, old tarps, doors and more are used to shelter homeless people from the elements.
Photos and text by Martin Dean Dupalo
The second day of the Clark County homeless count started early in the morning. I was out the door, thru McDonald’s drive thru for a coffee and then quickly across town to the HELP of Southern Nevada offices on Flamingo Road near Maryland Parkway by 3 a.m. to begin the count and offer resource assistance to the homeless.
The first night of the homeless survey focused primarily on the northern side of the Las Vegas Valley. Sahara Avenue was the de facto partition line used to divide former census tracts into northern and southern sides with a few notable gaps, one being the tract I and two other volunteers were assigned, a large segment of Sunrise Manor.
The group briefing at the HELP of Southern Nevada office focused on the night’s goals and coordinating the volunteer’s efforts, but it also mentioned some of the probable success stories from the previous night. About 200 homeless had been surveyed the first night and some 15 of those had voluntarily chosen to take advantage of the multiple services offered to homeless. One of those offered specifically to veterans included the possibility of relocating to transitional housing at the US Vets Initiative. Other options included The Key Foundation, another nonprofit organization assisting homeless veterans. Overall, there were dozens of options for assistance ranging from housing to employment to domestic violence and even medical and dental services.
The briefing concluded after the volunteer drivers and personnel matched up and filled a backpack with water bottles and an assortment of candy bars and chips to act at times as icebreakers with the homeless we would later encounter.
I partnered with two fellow volunteers, one of who had himself been homeless and has since been employed with a local nonprofit for a few years now assisting others that are currently homeless, and his partner, a woman who sported a red streak in her blond hair which later caught the attention of two of our interviewees. We began in earnest.
We each had some guarded stories to share with each other as the night wore on. Stories centered on the obvious, homelessness. At one point, I shared the story of one of my uncles; a hobo who had long passed away (it was speculated) in the Chicago stockyards, and then more personal, contemporary vignettes of others. Our assigned swath was one of a total of 17 identified, adjacent to my family’s home of 32 years and a place I was intimately aware of. It wasn’t a challenge to locate the homeless as much as it would be to ask for their consent in interviewing so that we might later bring them services.
The area was nestled between Charleston Boulevard and Stewart Avenue on two sides, and Lamb Boulevard and the curving US Highway 93/95 on the remaining sides.
The generic maps we had been given highlighted two areas it was suspected homeless individuals may be found. But living in Sunrise Manor, I could easily confirm that is exactly where they were within the assigned area. The prior year, I had volunteered to count the homeless as part of the county-wide effort for the census and had established food recovery programs for the homeless at shelters and veterans organizations. Knowing where the homeless live in Sunrise Manor is not a difficult task because it is so prevalent.
Clipboards, flashlights, treats and homeless resource guides in hand, we drove to the first highlighted area. It was behind a Home Depot with lots of subtle hiding areas — dark corners, shielded from plain view, and then off to a nearby field with wild Oleander brushes and what appeared to be Salt Cedar trees possibly hiding homeless. Three sets of eyes were actively engaged. But nothing other than some litter indicating that many had been in that area but none now.
Afterwards, we set out to the far side of the area, intent on the second highlighted map area. We parked the vehicle and set out on foot in the middle of the night alongside US Highway 93/95. There exists a long publicly abandoned path that clearly has become a haven for graffiti, trash and several shanties for the homeless. Because many homeless often get up and leave their sleeping bags in a cart or hidden for the next night, or depart their makeshift shanty at sunrise, it was important to locate and engage before the sun rose over Sunrise mountain.
This was the key area. No sooner than we entered the narrow corridor between US 93/95 onramp at Charleston we spotted a group of three. Two men, one woman, all on a blanket, two of them drinking a malt liquor much like the dozens of empty beer cans spotted around the blanket and against the fence. This was our main focus for nearly 45 minutes. Although only one agreed to the survey, as a group, they were able to provide us a picture of some of the other homeless within that out-of-sight, out-of-mind path and its homeless inhabitants. The survey relied not just on responses by the homeless but also observations by us. As we continued down the path, one of them yelled out playfully “Redhead!” referring to my fellow volunteer’s hair. We smiled.
The patches of trash, the broken fence line, the random mattresses were consistent at every 30 feet or so. And every so often, another small lean-to or shanty appeared. One larger personal construction effort against a homes’ back wall and attached to a shopping cart, we peppered with ‘Hellos’ but to no avail. None of us wanted to push aside a cover for fear of unexpectedly scaring anyone. It was the prior homeless group that informed us that “Nita” would be here but we could not confirm that.
Another 200 feet, we briefly encountered a homeless man who had made a hammock for his bed. What was most odd, however, was that behind him was his moped. He was not in a mood for questions of any sort. Spotting some forearm tattoos, I had asked if he was former military. The response wasn’t positive — we moved on.
There were other areas, under the bridge on Stewart Avenue was one but again no people spotted just graffiti, waste and more trash. The not-so-subtle hints of additional homeless were omnipresent.
The night’s effort concluded on a problematic note as we spotted some shanty-type dwellings behind the NevadaEnergy sub-station on Charleston Boulevard, but we could not find a path to reach the massive open field seemingly without access points but showing signs of homeless.
Afterwards, we canvassed the housing area and definitely encountered a few more ‘homeless’ shopping carts — often loaded down with clothing, bags, nearly always a sleeping bag — and several mattresses in more hidden areas. But there were no additional homeless. The sun had come up, and it was almost 7 a.m. So we returned, satisfied mostly that we had documented some, provided information for resources for others, and perhaps, personally, had volunteered as part of a broader effort with hopes of improving resources to those legitimately in need.
In the end, we reported five homeless in our area. We suspected a few more. We speculated the possibility of a dozen more, but five was our official count. The two volunteers and myself wished each other well, said goodbye.