Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2019

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Portraits of homelessness in Las Vegas: Eight people share their stories

Woody

Samantha Rea

Woody

Local advocates estimate 34,397 Clark County residents are homeless, about 1.8 percent of the population.

About half spend their nights in shelters, the other half on the streets. The majority are white, middle-aged men between 51 and 60, according to a 2015 homeless census.

How to help

• Donate. Support local shelters by donating money, clothing, food, household items or other supplies.

• Volunteer. Whether it is once a week or once a year, shelters and outreach groups can use your help cooking meals, distributing food, handing out clothing or doing office work.

• Host a donation drive. Collect items in bulk from colleagues or community groups — socks and underwear, diapers, baby food and formula, bottled water, toiletries, toys or school supplies, for example.

• Shop. Many local thrift stores are affiliated with outreach organizations that help the homeless. Every time you shop at one, you directly support the organization’s good work.

Most of the valley’s homeless fell on hard times here; 71 percent said they became homeless while living in Southern Nevada. About 13 percent are veterans.

Half cited job loss as the primary cause of their homelessness, although many also suffer from medical conditions, substance abuse problems or mental illness.

Here are the stories of eight homeless Southern Nevadans.

Stephanie, 60, declined to give her last name because she has six adult children and doesn’t want them to know she is homeless

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Stephanie's belongings

My husband passed away two years ago. I miss arguing with him. He was blind, and when I met him, he told me he knew I was beautiful because of the way people treated me.

I got him into hospice, and two months later they took the house. I got stressed out and sick and lost my jewelry business. Now I live on God’s good grace.

I came to Las Vegas a month ago. I didn’t have any other place to go. I got the bus from L.A. It took five hours.

When I first arrived here, I spent two nights at the mission. They said they’d store my bag for me; they wouldn’t let me bring it inside. When I went to collect it, mice had been at my things.

A lady begged me to come to a shelter, but I heard it had bed bugs. Who wants to live in squalor? I keep myself clean. This isn’t me.

I sleep on my tablecloth outside the Joan of Arc church, two blocks from Fremont Street. I feel safe once I get to the church, even outside. I’ve asked for God’s blessing. I trust in him immensely. He’s not going to let anything happen to me.

I’ve got 30 awards and won two championships for my jewelry, but here on Fremont, they won’t let me sell it. They said I was in competition with one of the kiosks. They let me beg.

I’ve been kicked out of the Golden Nugget for charging my phone in the bathroom. They said if I go back there, they’ll arrest me for trespassing.

I can’t wait to get out of here. My luggage is in storage at a hotel. It’s going to cost me to get it out. I want to get enough money to get my luggage, then go to Iowa. I’ve got a friend, and there are lots of craft fairs in the summer. I can sell my jewelry.

For a city that takes in the kind of money this city does, I’m appalled by the conditions. Americans are such a blessed people, and they’re usually very generous, but what I’ve seen here is the opposite. The dirty looks I get from some of the ladies who pass by. One of them told me to sell my body.

These people don’t understand — it can happen to any one of us.

Larry Groce, 67

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Larry

I’m originally from Atlanta, Ga. I came to Las Vegas from New York. I left after 9/11. I wanted to get off the East Coast.

I was a car salesman. My wife passed away. I had to sell everything we owned to bury her.

She needed a liver transplant. They wouldn’t give her one because she didn’t have a green card. She was from Mexico. We were married nine years, no children.

I don’t remember when I last had a home. Long time. I thumbed a ride here; I hitchhiked. It took two weeks. It takes longer in a wheelchair.

I come to Fremont every day to try to get money to eat, but I ain’t doing too good. I sleep in an alley. I go to homeless shelters every now and then, but they cost $8 a night. I can’t afford it.

Some money would help, just to get a place to live. Sometimes I’m out here 10 or 12 hours a day, just to make $10.

Tony Anderson, 19, born with leukodystrophy

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Tony

I grew up in Las Vegas. I was born here.

When I graduated high school, I moved in with a roommate, a guy I went to school with. I was working as a computer technician doing repairs, but I wasn’t earning enough to make a living. I couldn’t pay the rent.

I can’t move back home because my mom moved in with her mom. I have two brothers and sisters; they’re all living in my grandmother’s house. There isn’t room for me.

Now I stay with friends occasionally, but I don’t have a stable place to go. If I get enough money, I get a cheap motel room.

Getting my business back, making a better profit — that would really help. So would something to drink.

I come either to the Strip or to Fremont Street every day, for three or four hours. I make 40 to 50 bucks begging, enough for a motel room and a little food.

All of my things are at my grandmother’s house. I spent last night there in the living room.

Mina Pak, 60

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Mina

I’m originally from Taiwan. I came to America in 1981. My husband was American, but we’re divorced now. We didn’t have any children.

In San Francisco, I took care of the handicapped. Then I got sick and couldn’t work anymore. Six months ago, I lost everything.

Everything is too expensive in San Francisco. I thought it would be cheaper in Las Vegas. I came down here a week ago. I thought I could get a job. I lost my luggage at the Greyhound bus station; now I’ve got nothing left.

I sleep in the street near the bus station. I’m awake all night. In the daytime, I’m back sleeping. I don’t feel safe at night. I tried to go to a shelter. I got there too late. I’m going to try again tomorrow. I’ve got to find a place to live and some clothes.

Cindy Roye, 42

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Cindy

I was born in California, and I moved here from Reno. I’ve been in Las Vegas on and off since ’98. I worked in casinos; I was a cage cashier and a front desk clerk. Then I was a stay-at-home mom for eight years. The kids always came first.

I’ve got four children. Two alive and two in heaven. I’ve got an 8-year-old girl who lives with her dad and a 1-year-old boy who was taken from me in January. Now he’s in foster care.

I had a fight with my baby’s dad and our neighbors called the police. They came and found drugs our roommate had hidden in the TV. That’s when my baby was taken and we lost our apartment. I hit rock bottom. That’s when I became depressed.

They want me to take medication, but I want to be there for my children. If you’re on medication, you’re not really there.

I was raised in a broken family. I was abused. I’ve tried to do everything for my children that my father didn’t do for me. I want to keep my daughter out of the system.

Sometimes we pay for a room — $45 to $49 a night usually, but sometimes up to $90. We keep our stuff at a friend’s house. Last night, I stayed at a church. What’s the safest place you can be, except on the steps of a church, right?

The police and hotel security are very kind. They give me water and make sure I’m OK. There are so many nice people.

We’re trying to get a voucher for $400. It would pay for two weeks in a furnished apartment. I’ve been given an outfit to wear to look for work, but I need an address, too.

I don’t want my family to know we’re homeless. They think I’ve got a job. We take pride in doing it on our own.

Woody, 58

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Woody

I’m originally from Phoenix, Ariz. I came to Las Vegas from Colorado on the promise of work. A friend said he had a job for me. It was lies.

Now I sleep behind a store. I don’t think anything’s safe. I’m just glad I have somebody there with me — a friend — for safety.

I lost my job when my wife died. I couldn’t keep up. It was a good job, too; I was an electrician. We had a four-bedroom ranch house. My wife lost her job because she got sick; it was cirrhosis of the liver. She lost her insurance, so we lost the house and everything we owned to pay the medical bills.

We rented an apartment, then a trailer, then she died, and I lost it. I ran out of money and someone stole my truck with my tools in it.

I’ve got six grown-up children. Three are in the service, one is mentally ill, one son has his own problems, and one daughter I’m not allowed to see. Her husband hurt her, so I hurt him.

My wife and I were together for 34 years. After she died, I didn’t want to be in Colorado anymore. Now, I want to go back. I’ve got more chance of getting back on my feet there, because I know where to get work.

This is a union state. You have to be in a union to get anywhere, and I’m far too old to join. I’m just trying to raise enough bus fare. I need $239 twice over — I want to take my friend.

David, 48

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David

I came here two years ago on a Greyhound bus. A guy in Denver promised a friend of mine and myself work and a place to stay ’til we got on our feet. When we got here, his phone was switched off, and we were stranded. I haven’t seen him since. He got a kick out of it, I guess.

I worked in construction. I was homeless in Denver, but I had friends there. I was couch surfing. Here, I don’t have any friends; here, people are rude.

I’ve got a little camp spot with my friend behind a clothing store at the back of a building. There’s no shelter. It’s not 100 percent safe there at night. New people come, and they steal our stuff. Everything I have with me is everything I have. If I left it at the camp site, it’d be gone.

If we can get enough money, we rent a room. It costs $70 to $90 a night. We stay in places like Siegel Suites, Emerald, Harbor Island and Shelter Island. Sometimes we rent by the week; it’s cheaper.

I have a substance abuse problem. Heroin. I’m working on that. I just signed up for methadone, just this week started taking it. It’s free if you have Medicaid.

I’m still doing a little bit of heroin. The methadone takes five to seven days to start working.

Sitting out here, the heat takes its toll on you. Mentally, it’s draining — the rejection. Give me methadone, get me clean, get me a job.

I’m a vagabond — I’ve lived in Ohio and Denver, I’m from California. The world’s too small to stay in one place. I want to travel, I want to go to Europe. I’d like to do that working in construction.

Nathan Walls, 61, separated with three adult offspring

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Nathan

I’ve lived in Vegas since the end of ’74. I’m originally from Texas. I came here trying to win a million dollars. I’m somewhat of a gambler.

I worked in casinos as a porter and a dishwasher; I worked in McDonald’s.

The economy is why I’m homeless. It’s hard to find a job, especially for a person as old as I am.

At night, I stay wherever I can sleep. Any motel I can get. I stay in the open until the police move me along.

I can’t stay at the homeless shelters because of my criminal record. I spent four years in prison for battery with a deadly weapon. I got out five years ago.

I come to Fremont every day.

More homeless shelters would help. Do more to help homeless people. Give me somewhere to stay. Feed me.

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