Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
How you can help
Financial contributions for Rodger Jacobs will be accepted at any U.S. Bank branch.
For information helping the homeless, contact helphopehome.org, which coordinates with various Southern Nevada agencies to assist individuals and families achieve stable and sustainable lives.
Donations to the Southern Nevada Homeless Trust Fund can be made through the United Way of Southern Nevada (uwsn.org, or 734-2273).
For volunteer opportunities, contact the Volunteer Center of Southern Nevada at 892-2321 or at volunteercentersn.org.
- Couple looks to future after leaving desert homeless camp (7-25-2010)
- As economy sinks, demand for social services soars (7-25-2010)
- Battered women of recession (7-19-2010)
- Las Vegas jobless rate soars to 14.5 percent (7-19-2010)
- The faces of the recession in Las Vegas (12-28-2009)
- Count finds 17 percent increase in homeless population (4-9-2009)
- LV City Council addresses homeless issues (3-18-2009)
- Volunteers seek out valley's homeless for census (1-29-2009)
- Volunteers turn out to help homeless (12-21-2008)
Editor’s note: Think “homeless” and most minds turn to scenes of disheveled men and women living in makeshift tents along Foremaster Lane near downtown Las Vegas. Many of them have adopted homelessness as their lifestyle. But the Great Recession has created the new homeless, people with good work histories who are victims of unemployment and foreclosures. We won’t necessarily find them sleeping on a downtown sidewalk. We asked Rodger Jacobs to tell his story, in his own words.
As I write this, taking a brief late night respite from packing books into boxes, I am just days away from an uncertain future, a Black Tuesday when the Sword of Damocles will, under legal edict, fall upon my head; and, as the ancient Greek and Roman tale of Dionysius and Damocles urges, I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes for a few brief moments.
Within a matter of days I am going to become one of the more than 13,000 homeless people living in Clark County and, frankly, I am frightened.
I am a 51-year-old professional writer; throughout my 20-year career I have been an award-winning feature documentary producer (“Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes” and multiple educational documentaries), a trade and arts magazine journalist, a successful playwright (“Go Irish: The Purgatory Diaries of Jason Miller”), a true crime author and a literary event producer. For the past two years, I have enjoyed my role as a book and literature columnist for Pop Matters, a popular online journal of cultural criticism.
But in the larger scheme of things, my credentials are utterly meaningless. In less than two weeks, my girlfriend and I will be without a home in a town where we have no friends, no family, and apparently no safety net to catch us when we fall.
I have been medically disabled for the past eight years; my primary source of income is my monthly Social Security disability payment of $926 and whatever supplemental income I can earn within the $1,000 monthly limit, but with jobs in the freelance market few and far between in the new economy, several months often pass without additional income.
My girlfriend, Lela, and I relocated to Las Vegas in 2007 from San Francisco to care for my terminally ill mother; the plan at the time was to liquidate my mother’s meager estate upon her passing, see to her funeral arrangements and return to California. But by the time my mother succumbed to her illness two years ago this week, the recession had hit, jobs for myself and Lela — a freelance editor — were scarce, my health was worsening, and we found ourselves effectively stuck in Southern Nevada. We were living a hand-to-mouth existence, with no savings and uncertain where the next month’s rent was coming from — let alone money for groceries, transportation, prescription and doctor co-pays and medical supplies not covered by Medicare.
In July 2008, we moved from my mother’s Sun City home to the Carefree Seniors Apartments in Summerlin, and continued to be brutalized by the economy, losing one bank account and finding ourselves in debt to a merciless payday lender and constantly on the verge of having our utilities shut off.
In April, when our rent was about to readjust from a promotional rate of $890 a month to $1,200, a cousin in California suggested we rent her vacant house in North Las Vegas, an offer we accepted even though the security deposit and moving costs depleted our cash reserves.
Upon taking residence in the home — which was and remains in a state of disrepair — we learned that a clause in the 12-page, one-year lease we signed with my cousin’s property management representative rendered us responsible for the first $100 of all household repairs, even if the defects were caused by a previous tenant.
Lela and I were compelled to pay for the services of an exterminator to rid the property of cockroaches and black widow spiders, landscapers to evade threatened HOA fines, and many other such costs. We could not afford other repairs that would have made the house more habitable.
This month we called for a mediation session with the property management company, through the Clark County Neighborhood Justice Center, to discuss the fact that we believed we were in over our heads with the additional costs of leasing the house in Aliante and to suggest a renegotiation or outright cancellation of the lease.
Before the mediation session, scheduled for Aug. 18, we fell behind in our rent due to an unforeseen drop in income and two medical emergencies that had befallen me on June 23 and June 25. As the 10-day grace period expired, the property management company, in true draconian fashion, served us with a “five-day notice” and moved forward with a summary (expedited) eviction.
Our hearing with the constable’s office at the North Las Vegas Justice Center was held on Monday. After admonishing the representative from the property management company for trying to charge us $300 for service of the five-day notice, the judge gave us eight calendar days to pack up our belongings and vacate the premises; Tuesday is our deadline to hit the bricks.
I have been afflicted with severe psoriasis and advanced psoriatic arthropathy (arthritis) for eight years; several months of the year I must use an electric wheelchair just to get from one room to another due to severe plaque psoriasis on my feet. I am also plagued by hypertension, gout, GERD, perennial allergies, the early stages of COPD and bipolar disorder. Lela is 52 years old and not in the best physical condition herself.
We have no personal vehicle, no assets to liquidate, no credit cards and two over-drafted personal checking accounts. Our next income will be on Thursday, but it will be negated and absorbed by overdraft fees and penalties by banks.
Further compounding our plight is the fact that many of the social service agencies in Southern Nevada that are in the position to help us cannot render aid because my California ID has expired (a valid picture ID is required for most assistance programs.)
A friend has offered to pay the cost of obtaining my birth certificate from California so I can get a Nevada ID card, but then there’s the cost of getting the affidavit notarized and, further, how can I obtain an ID without an address for DMV to send the card to?
We are in desperate need of assistance; we have been hardworking people all of our lives, honest and forthright, passionate lovers of art and culture, but soon we may need to learn how to read books and study art under the glare of a streetlamp while the thought of a warm, safe place to sleep and three square meals a day fades into memory, an unobtainable and unthinkable goal.
I am overwhelmed with fear, anxiety and uncertainty; God knows I’ve made some hard left turns on the road of life in the past, but at 51 and in ailing health, it is with a dreadful sense of angst and hopelessness that I greet this new personal catastrophe.
At this hour, with that sword hanging from the ceiling by a horsehair, the only option that awaits us is a weekly rental of an extended-stay room in Las Vegas — not the most desirable option but better, mind you, than the alternative; for me, homeless shelters are not viable as psoriasis is caused by a compromised and overactive immune system (it is not a dermatologic disorder as many incorrectly assume) and I am highly susceptible to infections.
This coming week we will be fortunate indeed if we have the $200 to get us a room for seven days, let alone cash on hand for food or a decent cell phone; our most recent accounting reveals that we will most definitely not have the funds for movers or storage and all of our personal property must be off the premises by midnight Tuesday.
And so, in your travels across the Las Vegas Valley, should you encounter a weary-looking man resting against a streetlight, one hand on a wooden cane, the other clutching a dog-eared paperback of a Georges Simenon Inspector Maigret novel — my escapist lit choice of the moment — you will be gazing into the face of one of the new homeless. Give a friendly toot of the horn as you drive by and consider stopping and dropping a fiver or a ten spot into a hand that is mangled and scabbed-over by psoriasis … don’t worry, it’s not contagious.