The City of Las Vegas’ Department of Public Safety has set a goal to reduce its annual intake of homeless inmates by more than 1,000, or 20 percent over the next three years, and to provide follow-up support after people are released from jail.
The commitment comes amid growing concern in Southern Nevada about two ordinances recently passed by the Las Vegas City Council that make certain activities common among homeless people — including sleeping on public rights-of-way and not moving during sidewalk cleaning — a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or an arrest.
“[We’re] really trying to do our best to make sure we do [a] warm hand-off when [they’re] released,” public safety Lt. Danielle Davis said Thursday in a presentation given to a legislatively mandated task force addressing homelessness.
In a separate presentation before the committee, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Capt. Neldon Barrowes estimated that of approximately 75,000 bookings that the Clark County Detention Center had in 2019, 4,600 of those — about 6 percent — were homeless. That doesn’t include inmates who are released within “a few hours” of intake, which he estimates to be “another 4,000 to 5,000.”
Penalties take effect Feb. 1 for the ordinances, which makes it a crime to sit or lie down in public rights-of-way or within 500 feet of food-receiving docks, and during designated times of sidewalk cleaning in downtown and surrounding master-planned neighborhoods in the City of Las Vegas.
“We are predominantly a misdemeanant facility, [meaning] that someone [who] is arrested for a misdemeanor crime in the City of Las Vegas will come to our facility,” Davis said.
Advocates and providers of services to the homeless have said that the laws criminalize homelessness and will make it harder for the Continuum of Care, Southern Nevada’s interagency regional planning body, to obtain Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding and other federal grants intended to address underlying causes and the effects of homelessness.
“The causes for people to be re-arrested are very similar to the causes for homelessness,” said Barrowes, adding that mental illness, access to affordable housing and gainful employment and substance addictions are driving causes of people returning to jail after a previous stay.
In the Las Vegas and North Las Vegas detention centers, Davis estimates there were a combined 5,100 homeless inmates in 2019, or about 16 percent of both jails’ general populations. It is unknown how many of those inmates are duplicate individuals who spent time in both city and county jails.
Neither Davis nor Barrowes were able to verify the rate of recidivism, or the portion of clients arrested again after a previous arrest, among homeless inmates at their respective jails. Estimates ranged from 10 to 40 percent.
To reduce these rates, the jails will first have to establish new record-keeping and tracking procedures of homeless inmates.
Homeless service providers and outreach teams already have a system for keeping track of clients with the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), which allows for coordinated case management and prevents duplicate referrals and intakes. However, Nevada law limits law enforcement’s use of the system unless it is requested by a court order or warrant.
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) relies on people self-reporting during medical assessments at the time of intake in order to understand how many homeless inmates they have. All medical, psychological and case management in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas’ jails is provided by NaphCare, a privately contracted company that can use HMIS to coordinate with case managers when a client is in custody.
Barrowes said that one of his priorities is to add two to three full-time “case officers” at the county detention center in 2020.
“Our biggest weakness right now is that we need to have … a person or persons working full time to coordinate with these resources that we already have,” Barrowes said.
Clark County Manager Yolanda King asked Barrowes whether the detention center makes sure that discharged inmates have necessary medications when they are released. Barrowes replied that in regard to medical needs, “our follow-up’s not great.”
Deacon Tom Roberts, the CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, proposed that detention center staff take tours of his campus, HELP of Southern Nevada and of the Salvation Army’s facilities to see how they might be able to keep track of discharged inmates and better connect them with services, especially for mental health and substance addiction.
“At Catholic Charities, speaking just for us, [we] would like to have more interaction with you because we know we’re seeing these people coming through — whether they’re at the Courtyard [Homeless Resource Center] or in other places — and we have resources that can help them,” Roberts said. “It would be great if that happened at or near [the time of] discharge.”
Davis confirmed that DPS discharges inmates “24 hours a day,” which can make it difficult to connect them with services if they are released at odd hours of the day.
The next meeting for the working group will be on Feb. 13.