Editorial Board

Recently, there has been an ongoing debate in this community about how best to address the issue of homelessness. Everyone agrees that the people in need in Las Vegas should have a roof over their head and food on their plate. But accomplishing that goal has proven to be a challenge because of a fight between the Samaritan House and the City of Las Vegas, a fight that has seemingly devolved far away from the actual issue at hand. 

The Samaritan House has declared its desire to help the homeless get off the street at night, as long as the city helps pay for it. The city has been hesitant to write that check because of ongoing issues in the area surrounding the homeless shelter near Lincoln Park, in which local business owners and homeowners have expressed their displeasure at having their daily routines disrupted because of unruly behavior. 

The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a solution in place to make both sides happy. Failing to provide funding to the shelter will keep people out on the street at a time when it’s frankly too cold for anyone to be outside overnight. But letting people back into the shelter would reopen the possibility of further disruptions in the surrounding neighborhood, and those people deserve the right to live peaceful lives as well. 

There is no backup option in place, and the Samaritan House has made it clear they do not plan to reopen the shelter for overnight guests unless the city pays the bill. This is a heartbreaking development for the most vulnerable in our community, the ones looking to get back on their feet and that don’t cause any trouble. They are being used as pawns in this fight, one in which Samaritan House officials dangle their sad stories in front of local government officials hoping to get funded, while taking no responsibility for what happens outside the doors of the shelter. 

Should there be a middle ground solution in play? Absolutely. But those haven’t been seriously entertained. Councilor David Romero suggested the possibility of providing hotel vouchers to people in need to temporarily get them off the street, but it was dismissed almost immediately because, again, that would require a contract between the city and the Samaritan House. 

This has seemingly become an “all or nothing” negotiation. Samaritan House officials want things done their way or not at all. They have set hours they want to operate, and a set amount of people they want to house in their shelter and nowhere else. The city has to this point been hesitant to cave to those demands. How does this end? We don’t know. 

What we do know is that the homeless population is getting the short end of the stick. At the last meeting, Romero asked Samaritan House Executive Director if his goal truly is to help the homeless population in the community. His response, immediately, was, “If we can afford it.” 

Samaritan House is a non-profit organization, completely separate from the city. They should not be entirely dependent on city funding to operate effectively. If the city is expected to shoulder most of those costs, it might as well just be a city-operated shelter at this point. A non-profit is expected to be able to get funding from a variety of sources. No matter the challenges, the mission should stay the same. 

Perhaps the best thing to do would be to put the contract for homeless shelters out for a Request for Proposal, where any group could bid on the services, and the city could provide far more than the $50,000 currently up for debate. We could avoid having the shelter operate on a shoestring budget, where it is only open for select hours and select services. Don’t these people deserve more than the bare minimum that they’re currently getting? 

The people of Las Vegas, the homeless population and the housed population, deserve to live in peace and have their needs met. We need to stop treating the homeless population like pawns in a fight between a non-profit and the local government. We need to get creative, get them off the street and find a middle ground. 

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