Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2014

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social services:

‘One stop’ center soon to be down to just one agency

As need for help grows, county’s social service plans to withdraw

Fertitta Community Assistance Center

When the Fertitta Community Assistance Center opened four years ago, speeches at the ribbon-cutting hailed it as a pioneering, one-stop collection of agencies for helping the poor, a model to follow in the future.

It was even chosen as a sort of command post for helping the more than 3,000 people who came to the Las Vegas Valley fleeing Hurricane Katrina.

But the center’s stint as a showcase of efficiency and collaboration seems all over now, with the plan to pull Clark County Social Service out of the center, leaving behind only Nevada state welfare in a 7,000-square-foot building that was supposed to house a wide range of public and private agencies under one roof.

The center, on the Catholic Charities campus in the “homeless corridor” of Las Vegas Boulevard at Owens Avenue, has been serving as one of seven social service offices in the valley. At the busiest one, on Pinto Lane, some clients have to line up before dawn for two or three days to get help.

The county’s departure from the Fertitta center is only one of the bits of bad news contained in item No. 125, second from the bottom in a list of “business items” on today’s Clark County Commission meeting agenda.

The county’s social service department will also be lopping $9.3 million from its 2009-2010 budget, some of which would otherwise go to rental assistance, and 33 part-time positions, most of which are front-line staff helping people. That leaves the agency with 171 full-time employees.

The losses — an office, money, staff — come as demand for services was up 53 percent at all social service offices in April compared with January.

At the Fertitta center, the number of clients seeking social services rose to 3,217 in June from 1,223 in January.

The cutbacks are a result of the recently concluded Legislature’s decision to take $180 million from the county during the next two years to help assuage the state’s budget nightmares.

But the decision to close the Fertitta center seemed particularly frustrating for some advocates, a sign of another step backward. “So much planning goes into these things and then it just falls apart,” said Linda Lera-Randle El, director of Straight from the Streets, a nonprofit organization.

United Way of Southern Nevada marshaled a wide range of public and private supporters to build and staff the center after a similar operation across the street closed in 2002, also because of a lack of funding. The idea was to include public agencies offering services in mental health, welfare and Social Security, and private agencies offering aid to children and families.

The Fertitta family, of Station Casinos and UFC fame, made the first donation. Wells Fargo, KLAS-TV and other companies followed. Others donated labor and materials. The final price tag was kept to $325,000 and, after two years of planning and nearly a year of construction delays, the center opened to much fanfare in June 2005. The county, two state agencies and two private nonprofit organizations were initial tenants.

In a news release, then-Clark County Manager Thom Reilly extolled the virtues of many-agencies-under-one-roof. “By placing various services in one location we reduce the chances that some homeless will fall through the cracks,” he said.

United Way director Dan Goulet could not be reached for comment Monday. But when the center opened, he said the project aimed to help up to 60,000 people a year and could serve as a model for others across the valley. He also announced that there would be funding from local municipalities to keep it open for at least five years. But now, only four years later, Nevada State Welfare will be the only one left at the building come mid-July — and it too may soon be gone. Rachelle Church, social service manager for state welfare, said her agency hasn’t decided whether it will remain at the center.

Monsignor Patrick Leary, executive director of Catholic Charities, owner of the building, said the Fertitta center “was a real resource.”

“It was a synergy that worked,” he added, noting that many of the center’s clients are homeless, which makes sending them to different locations more of a hardship. Ironically, the apparent demise of the “one-stop shop” comes just as renewed attention is lavished on the area, home to three agencies that work with homeless people and to a controversial tent city. Las Vegas even submitted a plan to the federal government for spending most of $2.1 million in stimulus money on the corridor. If the plan is approved, it will likely result in a surge of demand for the types of services the center has offered.

“Like everything else in the past 18 months, this happened because of tight budgets,” Leary said. “We’re learning to adjust, readjust and then readjust again.”

In the end, he said, the change will affect the people using the center the most. “At a time when we were delivering more social services than ever, it’s going to put the burden on people who need it the most.”

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