Clark County commissioners approve millions in spending to reduce homelessness
Clark County commissioners approved $6.1 million on Tuesday for programs that would help homeless people transition into permanent housing and heard a presentation about 1,200 new affordable housing units that will debut in several months.
Clark County Social Services Director Michael Pawlak said three of the agenda items approved by commissioners Tuesday benefit permanent housing programs called rapid re-housing. The initiatives — financed from the county’s $12 million marijuana licensing fund — will provide 584 beds, almost twice as many as are currently available.
The funds allocated Tuesday are the latest in a string of investments aimed at reducing homelessness and helping 200 families find housing. Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said the county has made it halfway to its goal in less than six months. Last month, the county gave $1.8 million to HELP of Southern Nevada’s Shannon West Homeless Shelter, bringing in 76 additional youth shelter beds. In an upcoming commission meeting, Pawlak said, the department will bring forth the expansion of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, which reaches out to homeless individuals and families living in places not meant for human habitation, to offer available services.
Pawlak said the latest infusion of money will go toward hiring six new community case managers to work with families to get them housed with increased income and support. The case managers would slowly disengage with the placed families as they stabilize and are able to continue on with their own lease. The providers for these services include HopeLink, Lutheran Social Services of Southern Nevada and HELP of Southern Nevada.
What the rapid re-housing programs do
Kirkpatrick noted that even though it’s called rapid re-housing, the focus is rapidly getting people into stabilization — for the long term.
“We’re not forcing people. We’re not doing a burn and turn in three days,” she said.
Pawlak outlined the county’s continued response to homelessness with both short- and long-term goals benefiting families and youth, expanding shelter options for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and addressing system gaps using non-federal funding.
They are almost halfway to completing Phase One of the plan that has allocated beds for youth and families.
Pawlak said the focus of the department’s work so far has been on youth and families, but in the future it wants to address some of the gaps in the system by creating diversion programs, expanding flexible funding pools and shallow subsidy programs. When Commissioner Larry Brown asked what “shallow subsidy programs” meant, Pawlak said it included providing housing with intensive case management that would benefit the most vulnerable and chronically homeless individuals.
“Those are the folks that have multiple disabilities, substance abuse issues, mental health issues and have been homeless and on the street for over a year at a time,” said Pawlak. “For those, the best intervention is permanent supportive housing, so we combine housing with intensive case management. Those folks need a lot of intervention and probably for a considered length of time.”
Commissioner Lawrence Weekly commended the groups on the work they are doing, saying it’s very important in a district like his. He said that at one point a few years ago, he talked with a family of six living in a car for two months. The family went into temporary housing since these resources weren’t available then.
“It’s extremely heartbreaking to go and knock on doors and nothing is available. We are a day late and a dollar short,” said Weekly.
Weekly also thanked CEO and president of HELP of Southern Nevada Fuilala Riley for helping a young man who was living in a tent with his dog, Ashed. He is now employed, has his own apartment and was able to reunite with his dog who was kept at the animal shelter until he was able to get his own housing.
“He considers it his daughter, so he and his daughter had a great Father’s Day,” said Weekly of the dog.
New pipeline for affordable housing
Assistant Clark County Manager Kevin Schiller said many senior, disabled and low-wage workers are struggling to pay for housing and ward off homelessness. He said it’s a crisis because of dwindling federal investments, rising housing costs and inadequate wages.
“We have to be addressing those who are sitting homeless and at the same time those who are on the edge of becoming homeless in crisis,” said Schiller. “How do we expand that service?”
Pawlak listed tools the county can use to help mitigate the affordable housing problem, including both federally-funded and locally-funded programs, like the HOME investment partnership program or using the county’s public, private partnerships in order to build housing.
“The requirements to get units down to where our families can afford them, we have to combine all these revenue streams in a single-development generally to bring them online and make them affordable,” said Pawlak. “We need to look at other tools to do this.”
Additionally, Pawlak said a new complex with 1,200 affordable units is underway and should be opening in several months.
Weekly said the county has an opportunity to address affordable housing, and he urged fellow commissioners to bring people to the table to discuss options.
“Something has to happen where we can allow people to live here,” said Weekly. “We don’t want to get booted out of our community because we are going to have more football and all of this stuff.”
Slipped through the cracks
A homeless man who said he was a resident of Clark County for six years came forward during public comment to address the gaps he sees in Nevada’s homelessness services.
“I felt compelled to come to speak on behalf of people that have not really been served,” he said. “They have been marginalized and they are not in the programs that have been set up to help them.”
He noted that single men between the ages of 21 and 55 — most of which are minorities — do not have a place to go. The man said the services he heard being talked about during the commission meeting addressed families and those who are mentally ill or suffering from substance abuse.
“A lot of the partners with county, although they try to say that they are here to provide services for everyone, they really are not,” said the man, who has been trying to get housing for more than a year now.
The man said he called a service provider for two months without a response and then went to the facility, where he was turned away because he did not have kids, a mental illness, or a past with substance abuse.
“Finding a job isn’t an actual issue. I have been applying for jobs and could have had jobs, but because I don’t have housing, I have nowhere stable to actually be for the actual job,” he said.
Pawlak noted that on any given night many homeless men are sleeping on the side of a road instead of a shelter across the county.
“I know that my circumstance will not last forever and I lived in housing before, and at some point, I will be able to come back before this board and I’m going to have a plan of action to help,” he said. “I don’t fault anyone for that. It’s just a group that kind of slipped through every crack.”
After the meeting, Pawlak and commission members circled around the man to discuss possible resources.