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September 1, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Where have all the homeless gone?

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Joe Schoenmann

Clark,” a 33-year-old homeless man, has moved to eastern Fremont Street, because “there’s less competition” panhandling for assistance.

What’s odd about the man sitting on Fremont Street near the former mayor’s neon martini glass sculpture on the street’s median isn’t that "Clark" is homeless.

East Fremont has long been a hovering ground for many of downtown Las Vegas’ homeless people. For decades, they mingled alongside drug dealers, hookers and others largely forgotten by the rest of the city.

The area is changing, however.

Among the most noticeable changes over the past month or so is that there seem to be fewer homeless in the area, or at least they are less visible.

Clark, not his real name, notices it, too.

In a wheelchair for almost half his life due to a condition that throws off his equilibrium, the 33-year-old sat quietly Thursday with a half-gallon plastic bucket that held a few quarters and a $5 bill.

He speaks slowly and deliberately, the words coming out with some difficulty. Sometimes, he said, he will sit with his bucket in the Fremont Street Experience, where thousands of tourists stroll by daily. Lately he has moved to eastern Fremont Street, because “there’s less competition.”

A weak smile emerges when he says that.

Indeed, while there has been no official count yet, the sense among many who daily visit the Fremont East corridor is that there are fewer homeless in the four- to five-block area jutting east from Las Vegas Boulevard.

Chris Curtis, the retired Las Vegas police sergeant now overseeing operations of a privately funded watchdog/assistance group, the Downtown Rangers, believes the change stems, in part, from his group’s training.

On the job almost two months, Curtis said Rangers’ training consists of going to groups that assist the homeless, such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. Rangers learn of the services available to those with no home, he said, “so when we see them, we engage them and see if they are open to assistance. Some don’t know about those resources and are using them.”

The other thing, he said, is his Rangers will call Metro Police for assistance when “people are just hanging around wanting to cause an issue.” Examples of actions that might result in a phone call, Curtis said, are if someone is “urinating on the sidewalk, drinking and they don’t want to move along.

“We’ll get the street sprayed down so no one walks in it and contaminates their house, then we’ll talk to them. For the most part, some just want someone to talk to,” he said.

Over the next few months, Curtis wants to get a better handle on homeless numbers in the corridor.

“For now, I can say it’s getting good,” he said.

Clark might have a way out, too.

Over the course of an hour, he explains how he lives on Social Security and until last winter had a fairly inexpensive apartment. For some reason, he opted to leave the apartment.

“I’m seeing now it was a bad decision,” he said.

Clark said he also had taken out two loans totaling about $350 from a check-cashing business, an industry that typically charges high interest rates. Asked what he used the money for, he said he couldn’t remember.

“I like to eat in restaurants,” he added.

He plans to pay off the loan this month, then try to get back into his old apartment.

Until then, he’s on the streets sleeping in a few spots he’s found hidden around the alleyways of downtown Las Vegas.

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  1. 'Clark' needs to start making better decisions for himself.

  2. Wonderful info in the article. Ashley tune in: Clark isn't ABLE to function at a high level.

  3. tigermike 12:38. There are NOT always treatment options BECAUSE available "beds" are extremely limited. Nevada dumps almost ALL THE MONEY INTO K-12, higher ed, and ELL illegals while IGNORING AMERICAN CITIZENS particularly challenged and seniors.

  4. This is always a dilemma for me regarding homeless. Does he really have a "condition that throws off his equilibrium" that is natural or is it caused by consuming adult beverages?

    If he has a real condition then I feel the need to help. If he's able to work but refuses to, then I don't want to be a sucker.

  5. Where have they all gone? I'm sure Obama has them at his house. He's a loving, caring, socialist.

  6. Spending money will not end homelessness or poverty. It actually feeds and encourages helplessness and is partially responsible for our current economic plight. Why should those who have the intelligence and the will to take care of themselves be forced into hard times in order to perpetuate the survival of others who only take from society? Blaming politicians is too easy and the media knows this and benefits the most.

    It is probably too late and politically incorrect to admit that the poor and uneducated need to have the most and best access to birth control. But instead you have the religious and anti-abortion establishment insisting that family planning is wrong. Who do they think are having all the children? Rich and intelligent people or those with less means? Take a look at what's happened in the U.S. over the last three decades. Look at Las Vegas. Poverty goes right up to the edge of the strip and surrounds UNLV. We need to stop encouraging helplessness and educate people now. The middle class is already gone here.

  7. Well said, Duke. I'm still for a TEMPORARY safety net for citizens. We have SSI/SSDI for the disabled. Many disabled and many seniors qualify for EBT/SNAP but isn't it just a shame that the intentionally indigent with dependent children get sooooo much more than those who have worked and worked and paid into our systems and economies? We NEED REFORM to stop the perpetuation of intentionally indigent with dependent children. NOTE: We're NOT talking about a stable couple who hit a rough employment patch.

  8. Instead of the monotonous harping for more money for K-12, let's re-prioritize and do COST EFFECTIVE spending with our tax revenue. ALLOW the non-profits to end the focus on illegal anchor babies and start focusing on CITIZENS like cold and hungry seniors. Some of the non-profits have some orientation towards rehab/reforming street people but much of that has the "come to Jesus" requirement. Elsewhere in the LVS, JPC said a few things about a mother (who's PTSD son died) trying to do good re Adam's House. There is so little spent and so little available for the TRULY NEEDY--those without the ability to do for themselves. Without the ability due to age and/or due to health (including mental health) issues.

  9. "... the sense among many who daily visit the Fremont East corridor is that there are fewer homeless in the four- to five-block area jutting east from Las Vegas Boulevard."

    Schoenemann -- actually that corridor pretty much ends at 8th/Fremont, or where the shuttered Western begins. Maybe by the time Atomic Liquor opens this month the corridor could stretch almost to 10th.

    "Spending money will not end homelessness or poverty."

    dukeofdeath -- when was the last time you were broke, homeless and in poverty?

    "I think everyone should treat one another in a Christian manner. I will not, however, be responsible for the consequences." -- the late George Carlin from Saturday Night Live's premiere

  10. Roberta, nowhere in the article did it say that 'Clark' was mentally disabled, just that he suffers a condition which throws his equilibrium off. I'm sure if he's smart enough to have figured out how to apply for and collect government benefits with no physical mailing address, he's smart enough to not have to beg for money. So instead, I'm left to believe that he is making a choice to.

  11. Unemployment is still high. It isn't high because people don't want jobs. It's high because rather than creating jobs we keep giving handouts to wealthy corporate monopolies.
    Has anyone else commenting on this article ever actually picked up a book or a study of the homeless problem to see what is really going on at a systemic level? Of course not.