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November 22, 2014

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Growing homeless settlement vexes business, Goodman

Problems arise in city’s ‘homeless corridor’ as tents return

Image

Leila Navidi

A homeless man camps with others Thursday along Foremaster Lane between Las Vegas Boulevard North and Main Street. A kind of tent city has occupied Foremaster for decades, to the chagrin of business owners and city officials.

Homeless Camp

A homeless man camps with others inside tents along Foremaster Lane between Las Vegas Boulevard North and Main Street in Las Vegas on Thursday, April 2, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Homeless corridor

Sonny Thomas has worked at Thomas & Jones Funeral Home for 32 years. The soft-spoken 69-year-old started as a part-timer, and worked his way up to having his name on the business.

In that time, he has mastered the trade — collecting death certificates, soothing distraught families, running efficient services. But there is one business challenge he has been unable to master.

Thomas said he is losing a significant chunk of business because of the homeless people who dwell near the funeral parlor. Up to 250 men and women eat and sleep in dozens of tents — and sometimes do drugs, pick fights, even urinate and defecate in nearby alleys or in the street.

“This impacts us in a heck of a serious way,” said Thomas, adding that four potential customers in the past two weeks left after seeing the scene on Foremaster Lane. “When people see that, they get disgusted and move on.”

The epicenter of homelessness in Las Vegas is again on Foremaster, between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard and south of Owens Avenue and Woodlawn Avenue. It isn’t a new issue for the city and nearby businesses and advocates. Tents of the homeless have dotted these streets for decades, except for the times when the city and Metro Police have dispersed them.

But concern about the homeless near Foremaster and Main — an area known as the “homeless corridor” — has surfaced again, due in part to the growing number of multicolored tents that have turned up on the sidewalks along both roads.

During the City Council’s March 18 meeting, several council members spoke heatedly about the problem. At night, said Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Barlow, “they take over the entire street. It’s like a little town.”

Though the council took no action, Mayor Oscar Goodman said the city soon might. The problem, he said, is that as close as the homeless are to nonprofit organizations offering assistance — several shelters and service agencies are a short walk away — many simply don’t want it.

It’s a familiar theme for Goodman, whose controversial statements about the homeless earned Las Vegas the title of “Meanest City” in 2003 from the National Coalition for the Homeless. In 2006 Goodman pushed for an ordinance banning the feeding of homeless people in city parks. A federal judge ruled the ban was unconstitutional.

This time Goodman’s tentative solution is to find five acres somewhere in the city, away from residences and businesses, and move the homeless people — forcibly if necessary, and if he can find a way to make it constitutional — to that spot. It could be a place “where they can bother each other, steal from each other, shoot drugs with each other, drink with each other,” Goodman said.

Some advocates note that a high percentage of the homeless are mentally ill, and that any honest solution should address the illness.

The behavior of a man named Russell, who said he was guarding a tent for a friend and slept on Foremaster at night, seemed to support this theory. The 42-year-old, who said he has been diligent about looking for work, noted that a few years ago, President George W. Bush told him that his “Eagle-level” security clearance had been revoked.

Thomas, the funeral home’s manager, said the situation needs to be addressed quickly. Business is drying up, and he and his staff have been forced to call police and Barlow’s office for help, he said.

According to Metro Police spokesman Jay Rivera, the funeral home has placed 20 calls to police in the past two months.

Rivera, an officer who patrolled the Foremaster area from 2006 to 2008, said police are sympathetic to Thomas’ plight and have been doing what they can to help. Officers can kick folks off of the funeral home property if it comes to that or shoo them away from the entrance, especially when a service is being held.

But it rarely takes long for them to recongregate in the area.

Said long-time homeless advocate Linda Lera-Randle El: “They always seem to come back to Foremaster and Main.”

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