- Associated Press - Saturday, August 13, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A campus of homeless services, a place for people living on the street to store belongings, and a mental health hub are some of the ideas being floated to curb chronic homelessness in downtown Las Vegas.

More than 80 people - including service providers, law enforcement officials and former homeless people - turned out for a recent brainstorming session to consider a redesign of a several-square-block area downtown dubbed the “homeless corridor.”

They talked about increased lighting, pathways to nearby shelters and food kitchens, a clinic where people could receive quick medical care or mental health assessments - even bathrooms.

“We’re trying to get really inventive here,” Rick Van Diepen, principal in the Las Vegas consulting firm Greenview Global, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (https://bit.ly/2aPyD63 ).

Ven Diepen, moderator of the Aug. 4 session, showed a photo of portable urinals in Amsterdam that offer little privacy but could provide an option when public restrooms aren’t available.

Homelessness is a chronic problem in a city that fosters an image of high-rollers more than down-and-outers - where daytime temperatures can top 110 degrees in the summer and dip below freezing after dark in the winter.

Rain is infrequent, allowing some people to live in flood-control tunnels beneath the casinos, and vacant lots dot the downtown area in a town still rebounding from the Great Recession.

Storms sometimes sweep away tunnel-dwellers, and police and sanitation crews have over the years occasionally cleared encampments from sidewalks and railroad property.

But corridor-dwellers always return to the informal campus area north of the Fremont Street casino district where facilities including the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and shelters are concentrated. The Las Vegas Rescue Mission is a short walk away.

The city’s Cashman Center conference hall is also nearby. For some 25 years, an annual program hosted by the Nevada Homeless Alliance has offered food, haircuts, dental care and counseling about job readiness, housing, mental health and substance abuse. The resource fair attracts thousands of people.

In January, officials conducting a one-night survey tallied just over 6,200 homeless people living throughout the Las Vegas area, or about 1,300 fewer than the year before.

A 2011 count found just over 8,000 people without permanent shelter, before county officials in 2014 stopped including an estimate of nearly 2,000 couch-surfing and shed-dwelling “hidden homeless.”

A decade earlier, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, study found 6,700 homeless people in the Las Vegas area, but only about 1,200 shelter beds.

Last year, a survey estimated that about 34,000 people experienced homelessness at some point during a one-year period in southern Nevada.

At the brainstorming session, participants urged the inclusion of more homeless people in devising a remedy, and more services for transgender homeless people.

Terry Lindemann, executive director of the nonprofit Family Promise of Las Vegas, noted homeless people aren’t just single men and women. Family Promise provides short-term shelter, meals and case management to struggling families.

The January survey found nearly 200 homeless families with children, officials said.

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Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, https://www.lvrj.com

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