City says parking lot marked to distance residents from each other was best option after virus forced another shelter to close
Images of homeless people sleeping in a converted parking lot in Las Vegas have sparked criticism, even as the city officials describe an emergency situation and say the solution was the best option after another shelter was forced to close amid the coronavirus crisis.
Over the weekend, authorities in Las Vegas needed to find additional sleeping space for the citys sizable homeless population when a 500-bed overnight shelter closed after a client tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Officials turned a parking lot into a makeshift shelter, saying spaces for sleeping were drawn 6ft apart in observance of federal social distancing guidelines.
Many white boxes were covered up with blue mats that could be more easily cleaned. But photos of the temporary shelter showing people sleeping close to each other on the ground, some within arms reach, sparked backlash on social media.
Jace Radke, spokesperson for the city of Las Vegas, said the city and county had worked to open the temporary shelter after Catholic Charities closed and the citys other shelter, Courtyard Homeless Resource Center, was nearly filled to capacity.
Blue mats were laid down for people to sleep on. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Officials set up the new shelter in the parking lot of the Cashman Center, which most recently has hosted soccer games. A city official said the inside of the Cashman Center could not be used as shelter because it was reserved for overflow hospital space.
Homelessness is a continuing crisis in southern Nevada, with at least 6,500 people camped on streets or in storm drains at any given time.
On Saturday, roughly a dozen medical and physician assistant students from Touro University were on hand to help officials set up the shelter.
Clark County Nevada (@ClarkCountyNV)Touro University med students & physician asst. students have arrived to help with our temp. homeless facility at Cashman Center. Its coming together! #coronavirus#Vegaspic.twitter.com/cCSaezqIFb
March 28, 2020
Clark County Nevada (@ClarkCountyNV)Due to the closure of Catholic Charities, we are joining with @CityOfLasVegas & area homeless providers to set up a temporary shelter @ Cashman Center. It will open tonight & run through April 3rd, when Catholic Charities will reopen #coronavirus#Vegaspic.twitter.com/XGWaREYbFq
March 28, 2020
Radke said Catholic Charities planned to reopen within the week and that medical staff would be available near the Cashman Center to screen people for symptoms and get them medical help if they showed signs of being infected.
The blue mats laid down for people to sleep are easier to clean than the 24,000-sq-ft carpet squares volunteers had first used at the parking lot, which cannot be power washed.
But many on Twitter have criticized the move, pointing to photos of people who appear to be sleeping on the ground or on unseen patches of carpet.
A Mancino-Williams (@Manda_like_wine)Nevada, a state in one of the richest countries in the world, has painted social-distancing boxes on a concrete parking lot for the homeless to sleep in. pic.twitter.com/svNJ0N9r3f
March 30, 2020
After criminalizing homelessness this year, Las Vegas is now packing people into concrete grids out of sight, tweeted Julián Castro, the former presidential hopeful and mayor of San Antonio, who served as the secretary of housing under Barack Obama.
Julián Castro (@JulianCastro)After criminalizing homelessness this year, Las Vegas is now packing people into concrete grids out of sight.
There are 150K hotel rooms in Vegas going unused right now. How about public-private cooperation (resources) to temporarily house them there? And fund permanent housing! pic.twitter.com/wxZ4ZD6Jtc
March 30, 2020
There are 150K hotel rooms in Vegas going unused right now. How about public-private cooperation (resources) to temporarily house them there? And fund permanent housing!
Radke said he could not speak to specific photos but said they may have been taken of the sections of parking lot that were not yet covered when officials ran out of mats.
Look, this is an emergency situation. People are always going to criticize. But the city and county are working to ensure people can get the resources they need, he said, adding that the states stay-at-home order is easier said than done for people who are homeless.
Despite the backlash, the shelter was a welcome sight to Denise Lankford, who is unhoused.
Im about to cry, Lankford told the CNN affiliate KLAS. This right here is helping us feel secure, feel safe. Other places, you dont feel safe.
Before coronavirus landed in the global spotlight, the city had begun cracking down on people living outdoors. In November, the city council approved a law that made sitting, resting or lodging on sidewalks a misdemeanor punishable with up to six months in jail or fines of up to $1,000 in most neighborhoods.
While the mayor, Carolyn Goodman, said the citys entire effort is humanitarian and compassionate, housing advocates worried that the no lodging convictions would haunt people for the rest of their lives.
Homelessness is a widespread problem across the western US, particularly in California, where more than 40,000 people live in shelters on a given night.
Advocates and shelter residents have warned that unsanitary and inhumane conditions raise significant concerns for the battle against the spread of the coronavirus.