Putting hope back into the Homeless Corridor
As the Las Vegas Valley continues to sprawl, it’s easy for many of us to never go near the Homeless Corridor. Interspersed among the pastoral solitude of memorial parks and Woodlawn Cemetery along Las Vegas Boulevard just north of the heart of downtown, you’ll find this dense concentration of homeless-service providers, including Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army and The Shade Tree. The area is bustling with homeless who are accessing services or waiting for a meal or bed at one of the shelters.
We have a full-blown skid row here. We have a chronic homeless condition for all populations, from cradle to grave,”
Says Arnold Stalk, founder of Veterans Village Las Vegas, a nonprofit that assists homeless people from all walks of life.
While Stalk’s blunt talk might make the Homeless Corridor sound bleak—and, indeed, it is in many ways—those who serve the homeless are coming together to try and put some hope back into the name. The city of Las Vegas has taken the lead on an ambitious plan to map out a more functional and, perhaps, kinder Homeless Corridor. Stakeholders, including the city and grassroots activists who work with the homeless, gathered at a planning meeting in August and the dialogue has continued into the fall.
The ideas coming out of the discussions are as varied as the people and agencies that are involved in them. While some, like Stalk, are pushing for housing, others are advocating for bathrooms, showers and water fountains. One idea being considered is to turn the corridor into an outdoor mall of sorts, a one-stop shop where people can access everything from haircuts to government services.
Merideth Spriggs of Caridad, a nonprofit that seeks to humanize the homeless while offering services and outreach, has been involved in the discussions. She has helped bring homeless individuals to the table to share their ideas and concerns.
They want to be able to save face. They want to be able to go places without having curfews or barriers,
Says Spriggs, who writes a monthly column about homelessness for Downtown ZEN.
We need to lower the barriers to access services. Many of them need identifying documents. But you need a birth certificate before you can get a Social Security card or photo ID, and you need a photo ID to access housing or to get Social Security benefits or other services. Just eliminating some of those barriers would help them navigate the system.
With so many participants, including the city and county governments, grassroots organizers and social-service agencies, it’s clear there’s a will to help the homeless, but creating a cogent plan may take time. Even something as simple as what to call the area is debated.
“They’re finally calling it the Homeless Corridor again from the surname they gave it awhile back, Corridor of Hope. It’s a homeless corridor,” Stalk says dryly.
The former director of housing for the city of Las Vegas is pushing for more than just talk.
We need a master plan for the entire area and for all of Southern Nevada. We need a comprehensive plan that’s backed by funding.
Stalk is putting his money where his mouth is. He has closed escrow on an $8 million building at Fremont and 21st streets, set to be Veterans Village 2. He paid for the building with money that was donated, including a $1 million from former New England Patriots running back and native Las Vegan Steven Jackson, and a $2 million grant from the city.
While Stalk is focused on housing, Spriggs is pushing for transportation.
“The homeless know where to go to get food, to get services,” Spriggs says. Her agency just finished an analysis of gaps in services for the homeless and she says transportation is a big problem. “But they have to walk a lot of times.”
With so many needs to fill, it may be tough to reach a consensus. But the fact that different people and entities are coming together to address the problem is promising.
Emily Paulsen of the Nevada Homeless Alliance, the nonprofit that organizes the annual Project Homeless Connect, has an optimistic view of the master plan and what will come from the discussions.
We want to make the corridor safer and more humane, I think there’s a lot of promise. I’ve seen the collaboration in this community. I think we know how to work together.
Emmily Bristol is a syndicated feminist blogger who settled in Las Vegas because she likes a challenge. She’s obsessed with movies that pass the Bechdel test, hiking to the top of stuff and pie (not necessarily in that order).