After an overnight shelter offering 500 beds closed over the weekend due to a resident testing posting for coronavirus, authorities in Las Vegas were left to look elsewhere for a sleeping space that could adequately host the city’s large homeless population.
Both the Clark County and the City of Las Vegas issued a joint statement announcing that the Catholic Charities shelter will be temporarily closed due to the incident, but that they plan to reopen their shelter midweek.
With the announcement of the shelter closing, 500 of Las Vegas’ homeless population were scrambling to find a place to stay. The best option authorities came up in a pinch was turning the empty parking lot inside of Cashman Center into a temporary shelter.
White boxes were drawn onto the pavement as “social distancing markers” where the homeless could sleep while adhering to the federal guidelines of keeping 6-feet of space between each individual.
According to the City, the Cashman Center building space is being reserved as potential hospital overflow should the need arise with the number of coronavirus cases jumping quickly.
Touro Medical Students Help Set Up Shelter
Nearly a dozen medical and physician assistant students from Touro University donated their time and energy to help set up the makeshift shelter space over the weekend, making it ready for the city’s sizable homeless population in record time.
Currently, there are an estimated 6,500 homeless individuals in the valley who camp out on the city’s streets or storm drains at any given time.
Enough Space, But Shortage of Sleeping Mats
While a 24,000-sq-ft carpet was initially going to be used for individuals to sleep on, it was axed since it can’t be power washed and “adequately sanitized.”
The replacement? Laying down single blue mats for individual people to use since they’re much easier to clean. Unfortunately, there’s not enough to around for everyone, and for individuals who didn’t get access to a mat, they slept on white blankets on the ground instead.
“We don’t have enough mats for everyone,” a city spokesperson said. “We are trying to get more but are having a hard time. We’ll continue to provide this temporary respite, while practicing social distancing, for anyone who is suffering from homelessness.”
Internet Critics of the Parking Lot Shelter
While unhoused locals are expressing their gratitude for the respite the temporary homeless shelter is providing, like Denise Lankford, who says the designated space is making them feel “secure” and “safe,” other Las Vegas residents are criticizing the conditions via Twitter, after seeing photos of the parking lot.
One such critic is Julián Castro, former presidential hopeful and mayor of San Antonio, who once served as the secretary of housing under Barack Obama.
“After criminalizing homelessness this year, Las Vegas is now packing people into concrete grids out of sight,” Castro tweeted. “There are 150K hotel rooms in Vegas going unused right now. How about public-private cooperation (resources) to temporarily house them there? And fund permanent housing!”
Another Twitter user, @Manda_like_wine, shared her disappointment with the shelter solution by adding this message attached with a photo of the parking lot shelter:
Nevada, a state in one of the richest countries in the world, has painted social-distancing boxes on a concrete parking lot for the homeless to sleep in. pic.twitter.com/svNJ0N9r3f
— A Mancino-Williams (@Manda_like_wine) March 30, 2020
City Defends Their Temporary Solution
The city of Las Vegas, who began cracking down on the homeless population beginning last November, defended their makeshift shelter, with Mayor Carolyn Goodman assuring that the city’s “entire effort is humanitarian and compassionate.”
“Look, this is an emergency situation. People are always going to criticize. But the city and county are working to ensure people can get the resources they need,” city spokesperson Jace Radke said, adding that the state’s stay-at-home order “is easier said than done for people who are homeless.”
What are your thoughts on the temporary parking-lot homeless shelter? Do you think it’s an adequate solution and space giving the emergency situation? Share your thoughts with us below, we’d love to know.
As always, stay tuned for more news regarding how the fluid COVID-19 situation continues to unfold in Clark County, and stay safe and healthy out there.