[Hpn] DOWNTOWN ENCAMPMENT: Homeless get mixed messages

media@ccsi.com media@ccsi.com
Wed, 13 Jun 2001 22:29:42 -0500


Wednesday, June 13, 2001
Copyright  Las Vegas Review-Journal 

DOWNTOWN ENCAMPMENT: Homeless get mixed messages
Salvation Army tells people they must move; city says no demolition set 

By JULIET V. CASEY 
REVIEW-JOURNAL 



At dawn Tuesday, Salvation Army workers told homeless people at a makeshift
encampment north of downtown Las Vegas that they would have to leave by
next week, when their shacks would be bulldozed by the city. 

But Tuesday evening, city officials said they had not ordered the Salvation
Army to tell the homeless to clear the site. 

Salvation Army workers roused the campers, who slept in hand-made huts, and
told them they couldn't stay on the land by the train tracks, just
southeast of Owens Avenue and Interstate 15. They asked the homeless about
their needs and urged them to seek help at nearby shelters, but the workers
acknowledged most shelters already are filled to capacity. 

Homeless people reacted with mixed emotions as workers warned of
bulldozers. Less than a week ago, Councilman Lawrence Weekly said no one
would be "kicked out" of the private property and that the situation would
be handled "delicately and with true compassion." 

"I don't care. I'm staying until they're bulldozing," one camper said. 

"I've never seen a city so against homeless people," Loretta Stanley said.
"I don't understand why the city doesn't come out here and talk to us. They
are really ignoring us." 

Salvation Army Outreach worker Diana Estes said the city met with Salvation
Army officials last week and asked them to assist the homeless at the
encampment and to "let them know they had two weeks." 

"We're not trying to scare them. We just want to get them services," she
said. 

Salvation Army officials, however, could not identify the city employees
who gave such direction. 

Space at homeless shelters has dwindled in recent months. Catholic
Charities renovations and the closing of the MASH Village temporary winter
tent in April reduced the availability of beds by more than 400. The
Salvation Army has about 40 emergency beds. 

Las Vegas Rescue Mission, in response to shelter closings and the impending
removal of the homeless encampment, has opened its chapel space to provide
49 beds, but it already has reached capacity, Executive Director Rev. David
Blacksmith said. 

Weekly said he wants the camp removed because it is a health hazard -- the
area has no running water and piles of garbage accumulate daily. 

Weekly said Tuesday he does not know why the Salvation Army told the
homeless they must leave within the week. 

"The Salvation Army doesn't work for the city," he said, adding that he had
not set a demolition date for the shantytown. He deferred to the city's
Neighborhood Services Department for details. 

Sharon Segerblom, director of Neighborhood Services, denied the city's
intention of flattening the tents. 

"The city of Las Vegas doesn't even own a bulldozer," she said. "At least
not to my knowledge." 

Segerblom said the Salvation Army would continue its outreach effort for
about another week, but she stopped short of saying the homeless would have
to leave after that. 

But the homeless will have to leave because the city wants to protect the
rights of William Smith, a Boulder City resident who owns the property, she
said. 

"The owner would like them off his property," she said. "They cannot squat
on private property." 

A city abatement notice sent last month to Smith's family trust stated that
failure to remove campers and debris within 11 days could result in
misdemeanor citations. The city later told Smith to ignore the letter. 

Smith has said the homeless have not been a tremendous problem for him. He
has cleared the camps several times, including once last year, and said the
homeless eventually return. 

The Southern Nevada Homeless Coalition is asking the city to include its
members in any discussions before leveling the shantytown. 

"We'd like (city officials) to come to us before they act," said Brian
Brooks, chairman of the coalition's public awareness committee. Brooks
added that the city has not explored the alternatives it could provide the
homeless. "All of us need to examine what's going on in other cities.
They'll find we're way behind the times." 

Weekly said a meeting with the coalition would be scheduled soon. 

Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Nevada, also criticized the city for failing to deal responsibly with the
homeless. 

"All of what they do seems to be driven far more by a concern about gaming
and the tourism industry ... than the needs of the homeless," Peck said.
"The city has in effect declared war on the homeless."


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