Wednesday, July 25, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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The sand-colored Econo Lodge on Las Vegas Boulevard just south of Charleston has offered budget-priced rooms for tourists and visitors looking for longer stays since the 1960s, but now it will serve a higher purpose: providing shelter to some of Southern Nevada’s homeless veterans.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman was on hand Tuesday morning for the grand opening of the Veteran’s Village, a public and private collaboration that retrofitted the Econo Lodge to provide 125 rooms and social services to veterans in need.
“What’s happening here in Las Vegas is leadership, and we have been opening veterans homes and residences,” Goodman said, commenting that the country as a whole should do more for veterans. “(There is) nothing as big as this. This is simply a phenomenal step forward.”
The veterans who stay at the renovated complex will have access to education, nutritional, exercise, medical and mental health services provide by several local and national agencies, such as Lutheran Social Services of Southern Nevada, Help of Southern Nevada, U.S. Vets, Three Square Regional Food Bank, East Valley Family Services, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Medical Reserve Corps of Southern Nevada.
“This is the most important issue that we have,” Goodman said before cutting a purple ribbon hung across the doorway to one of the renovated rooms. “We need to get the vets that are homeless places, and we need to continue that outreach.”
The project was spearheaded by Arnold Stalk, a longtime Las Vegas architect and developer who has often tackled issues such as affordable and emergency housing. In 2007, Stalk launched a project to use converted shipping containers as single-family transitional residences for the homeless.
“This list of organizations serves notice to the community that we are here to help,” Stalk said of the service providers. “We are here to make the connections for veterans so they can make the transition to mainstream society.”
Stalk spent months looking for the a property to work with until he found the Econo Lodge. Kobi Shani sold the Econo Lodge to Stalk’s nonprofit Veterans Village organization. After updating the rooms and common facilities, the project was completed within a year.
Veteran’s Village and partnering agencies will provide round-the-clock security, wireless Internet service, on-site laundry facilities and weekly maid service at the complex. There also will be job placement services for the residents, and there are plans to host addiction treatment meetings on the property. Lutheran Social Services of Nevada is referring homeless veterans who seek assistance to the village.
According to a survey of Las Vegas’ homeless conducted by the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition in June, of 312 homeless people surveyed, 71 were veterans.
“There are probably hundreds of people in Las Vegas who need housing tonight,” Stalk said. “These 125 units sure are important as each void that we fill is another step forward.”
There was no “pop” of champagne bottles for the ribbon cutting, but the high temperatures added to the festivities by spontaneously bursting a few decorative balloons throughout the ceremony.