The March 29, 2018 broadcast of KNPR’s State of Nevada focused on the homeless issue facing Las Vegas. The main emphasis of the broadcast was to promote awareness of the homeless issue, while also considering how different city efforts might curtail homelessness throughout the city. One of the central questions that is posed to listeners throughout, who called in to give their opinion, was on whether assisting the homeless should only be conducted through official organizations supported by taxpayer dollars, or whether private groups and individuals should be able to provide basic resources such as food and occasional shelter. The main theme running through all of the interviews was how to humanely deal with the problem, while also showing how a high prevalence of homelessness can be disruptive to local businesses.
The radio broadcast featured four main guests: Kathi Gibson, who is a community services manager and proposes a new community resource center to help the homeless; Michael Vannozzi, who is the director for the Downtown Business Alliance, and therefore represents the interests of business owners who are being impacted by the rise in homelessness; Tom Roberts, who runs a Catholic charity organization and offers insights on how homelessness can be managed; and Mel Frailey, who is a police officer that describes some of the legal issues involved.
The broadcast began with a brief discussion highlighting the extent of the problem; Las Vegas currently has the eighth largest homeless population, despite being smaller than many other major metropolitan areas. At the same time, homelessness is on the rise throughout the city. The first two issues to emerge were how to direct resources to actively help the homeless, and also considering how businesses downtown were being negatively affected with the high presence of homeless persons outside their storefronts. This has made many businesses consider moving away, which might actually make the problem worse due to leaving the area and weakening the local economy, at least downtown, even further.
The first interview by Kathi Gibson discusses a new community center that is being built that does not act as a traditional shelter; the focus of the center is to provide assistance and some medical aid to homeless persons in the community. However, the center is not currently equipped to cover overnight stays; eventually, the plan is to provide some shelter for the homeless under canopies, but this has yet to be realized.
One of the main controversies discussed, primarily by Michael Vannozzi, was whether helping the homeless makes the problem better, or worse. The central concern is that helping homeless persons temporarily can sometimes make the problem worse over the long run, at least from a local business perspective. Additionally, sometimes homeless persons who may be sleeping on business property react negatively toward being asked to leave. For others the problem stems from providing some assistance, such as giving food or water, but this has the tendency to attract more homeless people in search of the same services. Vannozzi agrees the homeless should be treated humanely, as does everyone throughout the broadcast, but there is an element of uncertainty among business owners on how to best resolve the problem. From the city’s perspective, if these businesses begin to leave, the neighborhoods downtown will most likely fall into further disrepair, so having businesses simply leave the area does not contribute toward solving the issue.
Thomas Gibson explains how a business willing to help the homeless can create further problems; one manager who attempted to pay an individual to leave because he was being unruly was faced the next day with other homeless persons seeking to be paid. Tom Roberts, who directs the Catholic charity, acknowledges how people who bring homeless persons resources such as food, water and blankets may believe they are doing the best thing, but a better use of generosity would be to donate directly to shelters, who have more experience and knowledge on how to distribute these resources. Officer Frailey discusses a new outreach program, known as MORE, which aims to connect homeless persons with resources that might help them stay off the streets. The program has had limited success, but there has been some. However, there are issues regarding mental illness and attitudes among some homeless persons that they do not want to receive help, and this has contributed to the problem as well.
The main conflicting theme therefore seemed to be whether people wishing to help the homeless should do so as they see fit, or whether this should only be handled by organizations that have specific programs designed to help the homeless. Many of the interviewees seemed inclined to think that helping the homeless should only be done by official organizations, as this would be more effective, and it would not encourage the problem where helping someone one day results in a hundred others seeking the same help. However, there was also an emphasis on understanding the issues that lead to homelessness, the specific needs they may have including food, water, blankets, and medical care, and how to humanely handle the situation. Several of the calls that were taken during the broadcast focused on seeing the problem, but also emphasizing that homeless persons need to be treated humanely. The interviewees tend to agree, and many of the organizations involved, including the community resource center, the Catholic charity, and the MORE program are working to resolve the issue, but none of these seem to be quite enough to deal with the scope of the homeless problem in Las Vegas.
- KNPR. City of Las Vegas Launches New Effort to Help the Homeless. State of Nevada. May 29, 2018.