Monday, July 23, 2012 | 2 a.m.
As Ed Vega pilots his gray Hyundai SUV down Maryland Parkway, Mindy Torres sits in the passenger seat, scanning the sidewalks.
“Over there,” she exclaims as she sees a disheveled man pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk.
Vega quickly pulls the car to the side of the road as Torres rolls down her window and offers several bottles of ice-cold water to the homeless man.
Vega and Torres, both employees of the nonprofit HELP of Southern Nevada, will spend the rest of the morning weaving through the alleyways and side streets of downtown Las Vegas as part of an outreach program that delivers cold water to the homeless population exposed to the desert heat.
The goal of the effort is twofold, Torres says. Much of the homeless population doesn’t have access to clean running water, and dehydration can set in quickly when temperatures are in the triple digits.
But the simple offering of a bottle of water also serves as an opening to connect with the homeless in a low-pressure situation, allowing Torres and Vega to inform them of the services offered by HELP.
“It helps us keep them hydrated, make that contact, and eventually we’ll build up that rapport where maybe they’ll trust somebody and maybe want to come in to get those services,” Torres said.
The extreme heat of a Las Vegas summer is especially taxing on the homeless, making outreach efforts more urgent, said Leslee Rogers, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Southern Nevada.
Although HELP and the Salvation Army deliver water to the homeless throughout the year, the amount they distribute jumps up in the summer, surpassing thousands of bottles of water a week.
“The heat can be absolutely menacing,” Rogers said. “We make it a point to provide hydration for these people, because they get dehydrated way before they know it, and then they’re sick. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen to our neighbors.”
The Salvation Army also operates one of three summer cooling stations in the valley, which serve as day-shelters that allow the homeless to get inside and stay hydrated.
The increased need for water during the summer can be taxing on nonprofits, Rogers said, which often operate on tight budgets. But she said the community had stepped up, donating about 30 pallets of bottled water (more than 50,000 bottles) to the Salvation Army after a recent call for help.
Torres, the HELP employee, said money saved thanks to bottled water donations could be used elsewhere.
“It lets us utilize our funding for other necessities. We have so many other departments: rental assistance, the work program, the youth program, family services,” Torres said.
“(Water donations) means we can fund other things, maybe buy more baby formula or buy more diapers. If we can get that donation, it lets us use that money in another area of need.”
HELP has set up water donation stations at four area Whole Foods stores and also is collecting change at those stores to help fund its campaign. Donors can either buy water at the store, or drop off water they purchased elsewhere. Participating stores include the Whole Foods at Town Square, 6689 Las Vegas Blvd. South, in Henderson, 100 S. Green Valley Pkwy., and two stores in Las Vegas – one at 8855 W. Charleston Blvd. and the other at 7250 W. Lake Mead Blvd.
The Salvation Army accepts water donation seven days a week at its location at 31 W. Owens Ave., and Monday through Friday at its location at 2900 Palomino Lane.
[email protected] / 259-4059 / @conor_shine