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August 23, 2014

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Annie Wilson, Metro Police’s liaison to the homeless

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Sam Morris

Annie Wilson, Metro Police’s liaison to the homeless, gives information to Jeff Carter on Tuesday about an upcoming program that will allow for free phone calls to family members. Wilson says she’s been seeing more Las Vegas Valley families needing assistance as the economy has continued to decline.

When Annie Wilson hit the streets of the Las Vegas Valley in May 2006, she became the first homeless liaison for Metro Police.

Advocates at the time said she was also the first police liaison to the homeless in the nation.

Her arrival was timely, after several high-profile police sweeps of camps. The Sun talked to her on a recent afternoon when she was stuffing 500 bags with toothpaste, socks and other items in advance of Sunday’s event at Catholic Charities downtown, where homeless people will be able to phone home for free.

How is homelessness changing in the valley?

We’re seeing a lot more families — the mother, the father, the children. At a one-day event in April called Project Homeless Connect, there were 50 families; at the same event in October, there were 250. We’re also seeing more undocumented immigrants.

Why are more people becoming homeless?

They say it’s because they lost their jobs. Or they come here after people told them there were jobs, and then there aren’t.

What do they need?

It’s not just a bed. They need a lot of wraparound services, like health care, job training.

What’s the biggest obstacle to helping them?

There are not enough programs, and barriers are built into many of the ones the valley does have, like rules that don’t fit the situation of the person needing help. Also, we need more affordable housing and more jobs.

If there are more camps around the valley, have there been more conflicts between them and homeowners and businesses? Could this lead to more police sweeps?

There’s potential for conflict, but I try to talk to people about being a part of the solution, not the problem. For example, I talked to one business owner about hiring some of the homeless people he was complaining about. And I don’t think there will be another sweep because now we have protocols and we take care of things before it gets to that point by sending different agencies to camps and offering help getting people off the streets.

Are homeless people asking for anything new?

More and more people want to go home. They say there are no jobs here. We hope some of these people can reach their families this weekend and that they say, “Send him to us. We can take care of him.”

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