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City asked to help with shelter

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By David Giuliani

A local group is asking the city for help to set up a permanent shelter for the homeless. Members of the City Council say they’re interested.

Last winter, First Presbyterian Church made available temporary space for such a shelter. Volunteers worked in shifts, and paid staffers covered those times when no volunteers were signed up.

From Nov. 23 to April 1, the shelter served 47 people, who used the facility for a total of 835 days. Most of the people in the shelter were chronically homeless Las Vegas residents, but some were traveling through town.

Samaritan House, a local group that serves the poor, has been analyzing the costs of a shelter in Las Vegas for the coming year.

The group wants the city and San Miguel County to help find a suitable building for a year-round shelter for 10 to 15 people. It may be in the form of converted motel space or three portable units.

Samaritan House is asking the city and others to sign a letter of endorsement for the group’s effort to get federal stimulus funding for such a building.

“We have been inundated because of the economy. We are working on a very meager budget. We’re asking for your support of our programs,” Vince Howell of Samaritan House said at last week’s City Council meeting.

The group approached the city for money last year, but city officials de-clined, saying they feared they would be violating the state constitution’s anti-donation clause if they donated to Samaritan House. The clause bars public money from going toward private purposes.

“We haven’t found a way to help as much as we should,” Councilman Morris Madrid said. “I understand the concerns of the anti-donation clause. I really think there has to be a way.”

He suggested using a portion of the lodgers tax, which is collected from motel customers, to go toward providing lodging for the homeless.

Madrid, who works at the state hospital, said some of those discharged from the hospital like Las Vegas but have no place to stay, so they end up on the streets.

Councilman Andrew Feldman noted that the anti-donation clause prohibits the city from giving taxpayer money without getting something in return. He said the city could give money but require that shelter users, in return, provide community service to the city.

“Then we’re not in violation of the anti-donation clause,” Feldman said to applause.

Mayor Tony Marquez said he would form a task force, suggesting that Madrid and Feldman be members. He urged all interested residents to contact City Hall.