Combating Homelessness in Nevada

One of my duties as a senior in high school was taking my mother to work every morning at 6:30am. Each morning I would drive through Main Street in North Las Vegas and see homeless people sleeping in tents, on cardboard boxes, or just on the floor. My mother and I would usually ignore them but after taking the same road for years, that changed. We began to wonder why these people were in this situation.

The hardest part was seeing children and pregnant women living in the streets. With the weather in Las Vegas at over 100 degrees during the summer, and hitting the low 30s during the winter, it only made me appreciate the roof over my head that much more. These concerns also made me wonder what our state was doing to address the issue of homelessness. The answer is, not enough. Nevada should learn from other states’ successful measures to combat homelessness.

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While chronic homelessness is a problem in many states across the country, some are working to address and solve that problem. A program called “Housing First” was initiated by the state of Utah to battle chronic homelessness. Unlike many states that have anti-homeless laws, Utah took a different approach to prove that a state can work to resolve homelessness.

This program provides housing first and then goes on about addressing the underlying causes of the homeless after housing is established. The program claims a success rate of 85%. By April of this year, it had reduced the ranks of the chronically homeless by 91%, that’s 1,764 people housed.

While providing housing does come with a cost for the state, that cost is much lower than that of the status quo. The cost of providing an apartment and social work for clients in the Housing First program is $11,000 per year. As opposed to the average price of hospital and jail visits for street denizens of nearly $17,000 a year.

There are responsibilities that Housing First clients have to take on during the program. Clients pay $50 a month or 30% of their income- whichever is greater. The program has other rules that clients have to abide by while in the program’s housing. Clients run the risk of getting evicted for breaking the rules.

In Nevada, the 2014 Southern Nevada Homeless Census and Survey Comprehensive Report found that there were 3,494 people who are unsheltered and homeless, with a 15.2% increase from 2013. It also concluded that there is an unsheltered hidden population of 1,974 that saw an increase of 40.9% from the previous year. These numbers add up to a total of 5,468 homeless in Southern Nevada.

With these figures in mind and a constant increase in homelessness, we must ask the question – should Nevada begin a program like Housing First to combat the problem of homelessness? If the status quo isn’t working (as proven with the alarming numbers above), Nevada should start considering programs that have yielded positive results.