Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2014

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Homeless shelter ordered closed by Saturday

Dave Beske and Jan Kapustka each receive $369 a month from Clark County Social Services, an amount that has been hard enough to stretch and will get much harder.

For several months, those homeless men have given God In Me Ministries $250 a month as donations for a room and use of the services of the group's shelter in the 800 blocks of Hassell and Hart avenues. But Las Vegas officials have ordered the homeless shelter operation closed by Saturday because the property, which is in a residential neighborhood, is not zoned for that use.

To comply with the city order, Anthony Mosley, who has run the shelter for the past four years, will instead begin renting out rooms to a smaller number of people for $350 a month. The renters will get free utilities and three meals a day.

Beske and Kapustka are among the 16 men -- four per building, in accordance with city ordinance -- who will be allowed to stay as tenants.

For Beske and Kapustka that means they will have to spend all but $19 of their monthly welfare checks. Both men say it is a price they are willing to pay to keep from becoming homeless again.

"I have considered this my home since I came here in December, so I am glad to get the opportunity to stay," said Beske, 45, who says he gambled away his money, went bankrupt, got ill, lost his Henderson home and found himself out on the streets.

"I was offered the chance to stay a couple of months ago because I have taken advantage of the services that God in Me has offered. Others who took advantage of the services have found homes. Those who did not are back on the streets."

Kapustka, 60, says he is glad to stay in the neighborhood despite its poverty and crime.

"I need the use of a walker to get around, but I tell you I feel a lot safer walking these streets than I do staying somewhere on Fremont Street or in other neighborhoods," he said. "I'm satisfied being here for now."

The shelter, which operated for 11 years without the city realizing it was not properly zoned and did not have a business license, had as many as 70 men staying there last November and prior to a city investigation that uncovered the lack of proper zoning. The investigation was prompted by a neighbor's complaint.

Mosley, who maintained that he did not know that his predecessor and friend, "Chaplain" Joe Prange, had been denied a zoning change in 1993, last month appeared before the Las Vegas City Council to try to save the shelter.

But when he realized that he had no legal ground to make his case, he agreed to drop his zoning change request and discontinue operations. In exchange he was given 30 days to find his homeless clients new places to live.

As of Tuesday he had whittled the number of residents to 20 and needed to decide the fate of four men before the end of this week. Mosley said it will come down to which of the men on the bubble have the income to meet the rent.

"It's like taking your children and dangling them from a cliff and waiting to see which ones fall first," said Mosley, a former Rancho High track star and firefighter who today operates Window Bright Inc., a window cleaning business.

"Going from director of a charity to landlord is no picnic, but it gives me a chance for now to help at least 16 of our former clients. But you have to be real careful because if someone caused trouble in the shelter, you could kick them out on the spot. Now, it will cost a minimum of $111 and take a minimum of 30 days to evict them. It's a whole new ballgame."

Las Vegas city spokeswoman Diana Sahagun said Mosley does not need a business license to rent out the four buildings -- two of which he owns, one of which is in the organization's name and another that he rents -- as long as no more than four unrelated people reside in each building.

"If there are more than four people, the city considers it a business venture," she said.

Mosley said that when the property was a shelter he did not mind occasionally tossing in $1,000 of his own money when the clients' "gifts" did not cover the mortgage.

Now, with just 15 paying tenants and shelter director-turned-room manager Steve Levin staying there for free, things will be tight for everyone involved.

"I want to help people, but I have a family to support and a business, and I can't go under doing this," Mosley said. "The rents will cover the mortgage, but anything that goes wrong -- a swamp cooler breaking down, someone not paying the rent -- will come out of my pocket."

Mosley said he will continue to operate God in Me Ministries' food collection drive and other services out of his business office on West Charleston Boulevard.

Levin, who has been with God in Me Ministries for nine years, said he holds out hope that someone in the community has a building to donate that can be zoned for a shelter.

"I think our concept of running the shelter has worked and can continue to work at another location," said Levin, who will lose his $70-a-week stipend Saturday and plans to get a job in sales in addition to overseeing the management of the property.

"Every day I look at Chaplain Joe's picture on the wall of this office, and all I can think is that I'd hate to see his legacy die."

Prange, who started God in Me in 1985 and two years later was named one of America's unsung heroes by Newsweek magazine for his work with the homeless, died in February 2000. Mosley, who had been on Prange's board for a year, in effect running the organization, took over after Prange's death.

On the wall of the shelter's office beside Prange's picture is a Las Vegas city proclamation that April 2, 1994, was "Joe Prange Day" -- a tribute to the man who under that government's nose operated without its blessing.

But while Prange became a legend, Mosley has had to clean up the zoning and licensing mess his mentor left behind. At one point Mosley also had to scramble to save the organization's tax-exempt nonprofit status and incorporation status when fees lapsed.

Mosley said he no longer enjoys even visiting the place he has worked so hard to save and over which -- for the time being -- he will serve as rent collector.

"Eventually, I may decide to sell the buildings," Mosley said. "Also, if someone else wants to give us a building we can use as a shelter but does not want me to remain as director, I'll gladly step aside.

"I just want to see God In Me Ministries go on and help others."

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