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October 25, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Project seeks to help homeless in a more organized manner

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Steve Marcus

A driver hands out bottled water on Foremaster Lane Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Citing traffic issues on Main Street and Foremaster Lane, Metro Police are considering ways to ease traffic congestion, such as by designating areas for people to make donations to the homeless.

North Main Street and Foremaster Lane

Metro Police are about to embark on a new initiative meant to lessen the intensity of traffic and criminal activity in a downtown area growing increasingly congested with homeless people.

What’s happening, said Metro Capt. Shawn Anderson, is that people who want to help the homeless will drive to the area to drop off food, clothes or other items near North Main Street and Foremaster Lane.

The area has become so known for that activity that homeless residents, many of whom don’t want to step foot into a Catholic Charities or Rescue Mission facility nearby, are flocking to it.

Because the well-intentioned will stop their vehicles in travel lanes to drop off donations, traffic on Main Street, especially in the mornings and at noontime, can back up. In addition, trash is building in the area, along with criminal activity.

“A lot of people want to help the homeless, so they go to this one spot,” said Anderson, who works in Metro’s Downtown Command. “And because all those people go here, all the homeless congregate there and it creates issues and problems — it’s not safe for the people bringing the food there, the mess it creates is extraordinary, cars stack up.”

So Anderson said starting next week, Metro, with help from local businesses and the city, will start getting the word out about The Giving Project. The project, in essence, will be an attempt to designate different areas around Main and Foremaster for givers and benefactors to meet.

Homeless on Foremaster Lane

Mike Lora, 33, an unemployed tradesman, waits on Foremaster Lane Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Citing traffic issues on Main Street and Foremaster Lane, Metro Police are considering ways to ease traffic congestion, such as by designating areas for people to make donations to the homeless. Launch slideshow »

“It could be every week, every two weeks,” Anderson said. “People can offer help in a controlled environment where other service providers can also show up."

Anderson said he wanted to flood the area with information and still had many people to talk with, including councilmen, businesses and others downtown. "The key is communication."

If all goes as planned, the first attempt at The Giving Project could be in April.

Las Vegas has long struggled for an answer to downtown’s homeless population.

Former Mayor Oscar Goodman once forwarded the idea of creating a “one-stop shop” of sorts for the homeless in an empty prison near Jean — hauling the homeless out there for a variety of services.

In 2006, Huntridge Circle Park was closed two years after a $1.5 million renovation after a dispute between two men led to a stabbing death. The park was fully reopened last year.

Years ago, the city enacted an ordinance making it a crime to feed the homeless in parks, but the law was struck down in court.

At Main and Foremaster, police could issue citations for some of the most visible violations related to vehicle traffic and littering. But Anderson said that’s not his desire.

“Our goal is not to write tickets, it’s to problem-solve and find some way to create a balance between people who want to give and people in need.”

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said “depending on how it’s done,” The Giving Project could succeed.

“In terms of trying to manage what’s out there in designated areas that won’t be a safety concern, it may work,” he said.

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