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November 26, 2014

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economic stimulus:

County, cities pitch homeless plan for stimulus money

In addition to bill-pay, rental aid, money would help coordinate services

Tent City

A man who wished not be identified sits inside his tent in the homeless encampment on Foremaster Lane between Las Vegas Boulevard North and Main Street in Las Vegas on Friday, May 15, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Clark County, Henderson and North Las Vegas plan to use $4.1 million in stimulus money for a wide variety of programs, such as helping families pay rent and overhauling the computer system that more than 15 agencies use to help the valley’s homeless.

The money, part of the $1.5 billion being given to 540 public and private agencies nationwide, is for preventing homelessness or helping homeless people quickly into housing. But private and public officials who worked on the funding have made it clear that they hope communities across the nation also use the grants to focus as much as possible on the economic crisis while improving the way they deliver services.

National and local experts on homelessness said the county-led plan appears to deliver on both fronts.

“If implemented with determination and creativity, this approach holds promise of preventing a massive increase in homelessness, while at the same time creating a better system for the future,” said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a Washington-based group that advised Congress on the funding.

The spending plan developed by Clark County, Henderson and North Las Vegas was sent to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department on May 18. HUD has until July 2 to approve the proposal and would release the money Oct. 1.

The plan “could make a huge difference in the community,” said Duffy Gold, director of community development for United Way and part of a group that helped draft the plan.

She called attention to the parts of it that would use the least amount of money but help create a new system whereby a few agencies would act as hubs for the delivery of services, with up-to-the-minute information on the many programs in the valley and the ability to quickly match clients to the right program. Now, people wander through “pockets (of services) here and pockets there,” Gold said, often leading to a runaround.

The plan says: “Historically, Southern Nevada’s homeless preventions system has been fragmented, with upwards of 15 agencies receiving ... funding ... each with its own set of rules. This fragmentation is inefficient and ineffective.”

Revamping a computer system that those agencies currently use to cut down on fragmentation would take $314,000 of the $4.1 million. There’s also a pitch for using part of the money to develop better data on available affordable housing and to work more closely with landlords on getting people into housing.

Roman said her organization has pushed for some time to make communities with federal funding for helping the homeless manage their data better, to ensure that services are delivered more effectively and to make it possible to research who needs help and what is working to help them. She said the stimulus money offers the opportunity to make those changes.

Shannon West, who is paid by area municipalities to be the regional homeless service coordinator, said a more coordinated, better-run system “should have been in place before.” But when local municipalities and agencies that help the homeless began discussing how to use the stimulus money, which will be very closely monitored, “it forced the conversation about how to do things better.”

Finally, most of the money will be used to prevent homelessness through straightforward programs like help with past-due rent or utility bills, or with rent or utility bills for up to 18 months, or even security deposits or moving vans.

West said local municipalities and agencies had begun talking about how to shore up the local system for preventing homelessness last fall, even before the stimulus was announced.

Rising unemployment rates, now at 10.4 percent in the valley, will likely push more families closer to the brink of homelessness, Roman said, so it is wise to aim as much of the stimulus as possible at prevention.

“If you can help stabilize a family of four before they wind up on the street, you’ve saved the community an innumerable amount of money,” Gold said.

The county-led plan is missing one major local player — Las Vegas. The city sent in a separate plan for spending $2.1 million that focused mainly on helping dozens of people in one tent city downtown. But West said Las Vegas not participating “doesn’t affect the plan’s chance of succeeding,” and the city could tap into the improved system after it is in place.

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