Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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On this night out, a quest to count Clark County’s homeless

2019 Southern Nevada Homeless Census

Miranda Alam / Special to the Sun

Volunteers spot a homeless person beneath an underpass during the annual Southern Nevada homeless census in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

2019 Southern Nevada Homeless Census

Ryan McDonald, homeless coordinator for The Salvation Army, updates numbers during the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. Launch slideshow »

Lying on a central valley sidewalk, wrapped head to toe in a blue sleeping bag this brisk evening, a person stretches and adjusts.

With little disturbance — only footsteps and quiet chatter — volunteers added the bundled-up adult to the annual homeless census late Tuesday and continued their search.

The count — which was expected to cover 708 of 754 census tracts where homeless populations have been identified across Southern Nevada — is mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Clark County social services manager Michele Fuller-Hallauer.

Data gathered and later released in a report is used to allocate $14 million in federal funding to combat homelessness in Clark County, she said.

In 2018, Clark County identified 6,083 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people, according to the report. The total homeless population has been on a slight downward trend since 2015, when 7,509 people were counted.

“Everybody has a story, everybody has a journey,” said Maia Carter, primary care physician with the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

Tuesday’s census was the 40-year-old’s first, and Carter said she wanted to get a better grasp on how homeless veterans live. But it’s not just they who are susceptible to ending up homeless — it’s anyone and everyone, she added.

Carter, a board-certified doctor, has a master’s degree in public health and wants to put her skills to use. She’s worked with homeless populations in Washington, D.C., and Northern California.

“Why not share that,” she said about volunteers with specialized skills, “and help someone else.”

Fuller-Hallauer sees housing as a human right. If the community bands together, she says she’s hopeful “we can see a day where everyone has a home.”

But for now, it was time to canvass.

By 9:15 p.m., a few dozen volunteers had already showed at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.

Hot cocoa and coffee were sipped and cookies consumed in the warm cafeteria. Some interacted joyously. A man outside puffed on a cigarette.

Most picked up neon yellow vests to place over their jackets. At 10 p.m. final instructions were given before groups took off in cars and on foot.

Officers in a Metro Police SUV crept alongside a group of 15 volunteers. Following a map, they headed west on Owens Avenue, then north on Main Street, as lights of downtown casinos flickered in the distance. They walked Washington Avenue.

The majority of the homeless population had gone to sleep, some spread out on sidewalks in front of apartment complexes.

Parts of the path were littered with trash. A sign asking volunteers to “give responsibly” was seen along the way.

Some of the homeless were easy to spot as they slept. Other canvassers required flashlights. A pair of volunteers apologized to a man who was awakened by the light.

Methodology for counting has changed. In the tally Tuesday — which ended early Wednesday morning — volunteers were looking for adults only.

They would be separated into two age groups (18 to 24) and older. Children would be counted 24 hours later.

Asked if she thought the downward trend would continue by the end of the count, Fuller-Hallauer said, “We sure hope so.”