Las Vegas Sun

October 10, 2015

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Joe Downtown: Where have all the homeless gone?


Joe Schoenmann

Clark,” a 33-year-old homeless man, has moved to eastern Fremont Street, because “there’s less competition” panhandling for assistance.

What’s odd about the man sitting on Fremont Street near the former mayor’s neon martini glass sculpture on the street’s median isn’t that "Clark" is homeless.

East Fremont has long been a hovering ground for many of downtown Las Vegas’ homeless people. For decades, they mingled alongside drug dealers, hookers and others largely forgotten by the rest of the city.

The area is changing, however.

Among the most noticeable changes over the past month or so is that there seem to be fewer homeless in the area, or at least they are less visible.

Clark, not his real name, notices it, too.

In a wheelchair for almost half his life due to a condition that throws off his equilibrium, the 33-year-old sat quietly Thursday with a half-gallon plastic bucket that held a few quarters and a $5 bill.

He speaks slowly and deliberately, the words coming out with some difficulty. Sometimes, he said, he will sit with his bucket in the Fremont Street Experience, where thousands of tourists stroll by daily. Lately he has moved to eastern Fremont Street, because “there’s less competition.”

A weak smile emerges when he says that.

Indeed, while there has been no official count yet, the sense among many who daily visit the Fremont East corridor is that there are fewer homeless in the four- to five-block area jutting east from Las Vegas Boulevard.

Chris Curtis, the retired Las Vegas police sergeant now overseeing operations of a privately funded watchdog/assistance group, the Downtown Rangers, believes the change stems, in part, from his group’s training.

On the job almost two months, Curtis said Rangers’ training consists of going to groups that assist the homeless, such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. Rangers learn of the services available to those with no home, he said, “so when we see them, we engage them and see if they are open to assistance. Some don’t know about those resources and are using them.”

The other thing, he said, is his Rangers will call Metro Police for assistance when “people are just hanging around wanting to cause an issue.” Examples of actions that might result in a phone call, Curtis said, are if someone is “urinating on the sidewalk, drinking and they don’t want to move along.

“We’ll get the street sprayed down so no one walks in it and contaminates their house, then we’ll talk to them. For the most part, some just want someone to talk to,” he said.

Over the next few months, Curtis wants to get a better handle on homeless numbers in the corridor.

“For now, I can say it’s getting good,” he said.

Clark might have a way out, too.

Over the course of an hour, he explains how he lives on Social Security and until last winter had a fairly inexpensive apartment. For some reason, he opted to leave the apartment.

“I’m seeing now it was a bad decision,” he said.

Clark said he also had taken out two loans totaling about $350 from a check-cashing business, an industry that typically charges high interest rates. Asked what he used the money for, he said he couldn’t remember.

“I like to eat in restaurants,” he added.

He plans to pay off the loan this month, then try to get back into his old apartment.

Until then, he’s on the streets sleeping in a few spots he’s found hidden around the alleyways of downtown Las Vegas.

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