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December 19, 2014

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Squabbles hold up help for Las Vegas’ homeless

Part of a grant was to go to improve coordination among agencies. But which would be in charge of the money?

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LEILA NAVIDI / LAS VEGAS SUN FILE

Tents line the sidewalk in May at the homeless encampment on Foremaster Lane between Las Vegas Boulevard North and Main Street. Spending of $4.1 million in federal money to prevent homelessness has been delayed by debates among local social service agencies.

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 »

Six months ago, officials trumpeted a $4.1 million plan built on federal stimulus money that would allow local nonprofit organizations to offer more of a much-needed service, help with rent and utility bills, and in a completely new way.

Now it appears the money won’t be on the streets until January at the earliest, a result of squabbles about how to hand it out and to whom. This despite the collateral damage that the Las Vegas Valley’s

13 percent unemployment rate continues to amass, including a 17 percent increase in utility cutoffs in the past year, an average of 8,300 every month.

The original idea behind the plan was for nonprofit organizations to use most of the money to help people step back from the edge of homelessness and the rest of it for improving computer systems that link together the more than 15 agencies throughout the valley providing help with rent and utility bills.

The initial proposal said: “Historically, Southern Nevada’s homeless prevention system has been fragmented, with upward of 15 agencies receiving ... funding ... each with its own set of rules. This fragmentation is inefficient and ineffective.”

Improving the computer system that those agencies use to cut down on fragmentation was going to take $314,000 of the $4.1 million, an idea that remains in place.

It was to be the debut of the “no wrong door” approach, meaning a lot less runaround for the increasing number of people who needed help, officials noted in May.

But the money for those improvements wound up getting its own runaround. Byzantine debates in and around the Clark County Commission set in, including controversy surrounding the process used for choosing nonprofit agencies to marshal most of the money, not to mention how many people to hire to oversee the program and whether help would reach certain ZIP code areas but not others.

In a Sept. 15 meeting, a representative of Consumer Credit Counseling Services read a statement from that organization’s president, Michele Johnson, indicating that she intended to file an appeal after not being chosen as one of the two lead agencies marshaling the money.

The statement also alleged that other, unnamed agencies might wind up running afoul of the federal government because of mismanagement.

Local activist Anthony Snowden spoke to the commission about “concerns with the process” he had, which included certain agencies — again, unnamed — “coming to the table as if they’re entitled.”

Within minutes, Commissioner Larry Brown was impatiently appealing to his peers, “we’ve asked people to put in six, seven months of work. We should move forward.”

Commissioner Chairman Rory Reid added, “Once you have a process, you have winners and losers. The process is usually questioned by those who weren’t selected.”

But paralysis set in, calendar pages kept turning and the county, the leader on the joint plan made with Henderson and North Las Vegas, eventually ditched the original recommendations on whom to work with, and under what terms, finally issuing a second call to nonprofit organizations for proposals on handling the money.

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani called the whole scenario “bureaucracy at its worst, to some extent.” She said she thought the money had squeezed through the pipeline already and called the ongoing holdup “bothersome.”

The allegations that the process for choosing the organizations was tainted really were more “about turf. It’s about someone likes this group versus that group.”

So she suggested and then got votes in favor of handing the money over to Clark County Social Service, which will act as fiscal manager of the grant and work with nonprofit organizations that will spend the money and manage casework.

Commissioners are to vote Tuesday on the new plan to have Clark County Social Service contract with three agencies that in turn will work with five agencies each to spend the money.

Terrie D’Antonio is president of HELP of Southern Nevada, one of the three agencies selected. She said it was unfortunate that so much time had passed while need continues to grow. She noted that her agency currently gives out help to people who are behind on their rent, but a $300,000 federal grant she has for that purpose will be tapped out before Christmas.

D’Antonio suggested that something could be learned from the scenario to date. “More people need to be involved upfront in the process,” she said. “We have to make sure everybody is clear before the request for proposals is put out.”

The goal: “more transparency,” D’Antonio said. “These are federal dollars, after all.”

Nancy McLane, director of Clark County Social Service, said she didn’t think “hastening the decision would have been better” because time has been needed to make sure the money is handled responsibly. She was confident that the plan’s original intentions — not only giving help, but improving how the help is given — will still be met.

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