Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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New program to aid travelers

A new travelers aid program run by Metro Police and Lutheran Social Services was introduced Tuesday at the Southern Nevada Homeless Coalition meeting.

A private gift of $30,000 will allow the police and the church group to work together to provide people who want to go to another city -- where they have relatives or care-givers -- a one-way bus trip there.

The program, called PATH -- Police Assisting Travelers Home -- is based on Reno's traveler's aid program, which has helped 2,300 people, Metro Homeless Evaluation Liaison Program Officer Jeremy Levy told the coalition.

"The average cost (to the Reno program) is $74 per one-way ticket," he said. "When we were there, we saw one family of five get sent to Florida."

While several nonprofit social service agencies offer limited travelers aid services, Southern Nevada does not have a centralized program to address stranded travelers.

The lack of such a privately funded program has come under fire from homeless rights advocates, who say that people losing their money in local casinos and becoming stuck here has significantly added to the number of homeless over many years.

With no funding from resorts or government agencies, nonprofit groups have taken the lead in trying to help stranded people, initially by providing them emergency shelter or providing them bus tickets home.

"Travelers aid is one area where we just do not have the funds to help a lot of people who need it," said Sandra Lewis, director of Lutheran Social Services of Nevada. "This $30,000 will come in very handy."

While the social agency will administer the program, Metro's two-officer HELP team of Levy and Robert Williams will do the investigations to determine whether those applying for the aid indeed are needy and have people who will care for their needs and shelter them in the destination cities.

Even with that safeguard, police admit they have not yet worked out all of the kinks in the program.

"It will be pretty much up to our discretion," Williams told the board, referring to who will be eligible to be helped by the limited seed money. "If we can find a care-giver in another state, then we will send them."

Williams said Greyhound has offered the police a 10 percent discount in bus rates for the program.

Lewis insists that the program is not a means for Las Vegas to dump its homeless problem on other cities.

"Absolutely not -- the only people we will be putting on a bus will be those who want to go to another place," she said.

"So many people come here on the promise that a job will be waiting for them or that they can stay with relatives, but something goes wrong and they don't get work or they don't have a place to stay. They want to go back home or to another place where there is potential work or a place to stay, but they just don't have the money. This will be their support."

The program could be up and running as early as the end of this month or the beginning of June, the traditional start of the busy summer tourist season, police say.

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