More affordable housing would limit Las Vegas homelessness, panel says

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A public-private partnership to increase affordable housing units in the Las Vegas Valley would go a long way toward decreasing the rate of homelessness, community leaders said Thursday.

Part of the problem is a stigma attached to “affordable housing,” Las Vegas Community Services Director Kathi Thomas-Gibson said.

“It’s ‘we want to help but we don’t build affordable housing,’” Thomas-Gibson said at a Focus Las Vegas panel discussion on homelessness at The Venetian.

Without more affordable housing units in the Las Vegas Valley, people will continue to see a gap between their income and rent. Developers could incorporate affordable housing units in multifamily buildings or single-family subdivisions, community leaders said.

“It can take one life crisis: losing a week of work, or unemployment, that can plunge them into the experience of homelessness,” Nevada Homeless Alliance Executive Director Emily Paulsen said.

Considering law enforcement, emergency room visits, street cleaning and other costs, estimates place the cost per chronically homeless person at $73,000 annually, while the cost of permanent supportive housing is roughly $21,000, Paulsen said.

An annual point-in-time count in January found nearly 6,500 people in Southern Nevada were homeless — sheltered and unsheltered.

When the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandated a coordinated entry process for anyone experiencing a housing crisis, the assessment index didn’t fit well with some of the factors specific to Southern Nevada. For instance, it addressed frostbite but not heat stroke, and didn’t address gambling, said Kelly Robson, chief social services operator for HELP of Southern Nevada.

The local index was transitioned to the community housing assessment tool, and now local shelters can conduct the assessments on-site. The most recent estimate Robson saw was more than 1,500 people waiting for housing, she said.

“The only issue is the queue is growing,” Robson said. “It’s great we’re able to assess all these people, but we don’t have anywhere to place them.”

Thursday’s panel discussion took place in a ballroom about five miles south of Las Vegas’ so-called “Corridor of Hope,” where many homeless service providers are clustered, and where many unsheltered homeless people stay.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @Journo_Jamie_ on Twitter.

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