[Hpn] Homeless problem haunts Goodman; Las Vegas Sun; 11/12/01
Morgan W. Brown
Tue, 13 Nov 2001 15:57:22 -0500
Monday, November 12, 2001
Las Vegas Sun <http://www.lasvegassun.com>
[Las Vegas, Nevada]
Homeless problem haunts Goodman
Mayor's solution to export panhandlers seen as 'disturbing'
By Jeffrey Libby
LAS VEGAS SUN
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who organized and now chairs a regional task
force on homelessness, said Friday he remains unapologetic about his goal to
remove homeless people who resist treatment from the Las Vegas Valley.
Not only that, he also wants to prevent more from coming. The only question,
he said, is how.
The mayor said he is talking about a relatively small, but highly visible
segment of the homeless population, one of alcohol and drug addicts,
drifters and others -- mostly men -- who line up for free showers, meals and
beds but want no help working toward new jobs.
Religious leaders, sociologists and members of the American Civil Liberties
Union say such rhetoric from the chairman of a coalition attempting to
address one of civic government's basic duties -- the care of the poor -- is
morally reprehensible, naive and can only distract from effective public
More than two-thirds of the homeless population are women and children,
homeless advocates say. Another 25 percent are said to be mentally ill. An
uncounted portion of the homeless population stays with friends, sometimes
three or four families living in single-family apartments or homes. Far
fewer of these homeless are seen by the general public on a day-to-day
"Our prosperity exists on the backs of people who live on the margins,
making minimum wage, and we're living in a city that's laid off 15,000
people," UNLV sociology professor Barb Brents, said. "To think the homeless
population won't increase is simply naive.
"And now the mayor, bless his heart, is trying to get them out. But you
can't get rid of homeless in a service economy like Las Vegas, with so many
people just barely making ends meet," she said.
Goodman says he knows this. He wants the panhandlers and hustlers "out of
his city," he says.
But since forming the task force in February, Goodman has made several
public statements that continue to dog him.
Goodman has suggested busing homeless people 30 miles south to a former jail
in Jean. With its air-conditioning and ready medical treatment facilities,
he said, it could be used to train them for re-entering the workforce.
More recently, Goodman accused the Salt Lake City municipal government of
giving as many as 1,000 homeless people bus tickets to Las Vegas. He later
apologized publicly after Salt Lake City officials flatly denied the
Last week, at a City Council meeting where Goodman ultimately voted to
approve $200,000 for various homeless service agencies, he made several
antagonistic remarks aimed at the homeless.
Goodman called panhandlers "despicable" and said the homeless were coming to
Las Vegas "in droves" and "that must stop." He said Las Vegas is gaining a
reputation for "having a heart" for the homeless and "that is unacceptable
On Friday in an interview at his office, Goodman reiterated those views.
"My position is very clear. I believe the city has to take care of those
people who can't help themselves. I've said that since day one," Goodman
That includes those people who are mentally ill and those who have lost
their jobs through no fault of their own, Goodman said.
"But I have no tolerance for panhandlers and hustlers, able-minded and
able-bodied people who refuse to work. I don't want them in my city," he
said. "I'm talking about the people urinating and defecating in our
Goodman points out that he is the first person to bring so many of the
important players to the same table to discuss homelessness. His task force
has heard testimony from social services agencies, religious leaders and
local and federal government officials.
"No one had done that before, and yet I don't get credit for that," Goodman
said. "I'm the guy who started the dialogue that made this into a regional
It will take more to solve the problem, some say.
"Certainly the mayor deserves credit for bringing people to the table to
discuss the problem. But it's one thing to bring people together and another
thing to provide the kind of moral and practical leadership that will foster
effective solutions," Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU in Nevada,
"The mayor's misleading and inflammatory statements about the poor are not
helpful in this regard."
Allen Lichtenstein, an ACLU attorney, said he was particularly concerned by
Goodman's continued effort to find a way to export the problem of
"One thing that's absolutely clear is that a municipality cannot say one
solution to homelessness is to send them someplace else," Lichtenstein said.
"It doesn't work that way. It's not a crime to be homeless."
Several religious leaders interviewed said Goodman's comments show a lack of
compassion and grasp of the complexity of the issue.
"Mayor Goodman's most disturbing remark was his suggestion that Las Vegas'
homeless should be deported to Jean and interned at the former prison,"
Michael Slater, executive director of the Interfaith Council for Worker
Justice, said. "This suggestion seems like a policy idea taken from Slobodan
"His recent suggestion that Metro should arrest homeless people for
trespassing is no less offensive. These two suggestions make a mockery of
Scripture's injunction that 'there shall be no poor among you.' "
Felipe Goodman, rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom, the largest conservative
congregation in Nevada, defended the mayor, who is a member of his
"Whether we like his (the mayor's) choice of words, at least we are speaking
about it," said the rabbi, who is no relation to the mayor. "No one else has
Mayor Goodman has renewed the debate, but in large part because of the
success city and county officials have had in creating a homeless corridor
in the area around the intersection of Main Street and Owens Avenue. The
plan was first proposed in the early 1990s by former Mayor Jan Jones.
Since 1995, when Clark County and the city of Las Vegas agreed to split
costs of building MASH Village -- a housing facility for families training
to re-enter the work force -- the two governments have each invested $11
million in homeless-related shelters and services in the area. Private
foundations have invested another $22 million, said Douglas Bell, director
of Clark County community services.
When Catholic Charities' renovation of St. Vincent Plaza is completed in
June, reopening with 864 beds, the $44 million redevelopment will be
finished, providing one of the best array of emergency and transitional
social services in the country, Bell said.
That is what has Goodman worried -- that Las Vegas, with all its services,
is becoming a magnet for the shiftless.
Most troublesome, all the beds for the homeless are within the Las Vegas
city limits, Sharon Segerblom, director of neighborhood services, points
out. That places additional financial burdens on the city budget. In the
past three years the city has spent $300,000 picking up the trash left in
homeless encampments, she said.
For Segerblom, who wants to open a food pantry for low-income seniors, a
drop-in clinic for military veterans and low-cost housing for single mothers
and their children, it's a question of balance.
Despite some of the mayor's rhetoric, she says, the City Council has been
generous, especially considering the city's budget, which is much smaller
than the county's.
As the debate moves ahead, Segerblom, like Goodman, wants to see other
municipalities volunteer space for future facilities. The homeless corridor
is full, she said. And the problem is regional.
Bell agreed that as municipalities move toward the second phase of caring
for the homeless by providing more transitional and low-cost housing,
officials need to look elsewhere in the Las Vegas Valley.
"How do people move forward to the next level (of self-sufficiency) if
there's no ladder -- the rung doesn't exist?" Bell said. "But the first
thing, it's almost a prerequisite for any long-term solution, is the economy
improving. You have to have the jobs."
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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