Southern Nevada has the fastest-growing homeless population in the nation—a population that’s increased 28 percent since 2013, according to the Clark County Department of Social Service. What’s more, WalletHub recently named Nevada as the least charitable state in the U.S. But some locals are out there helping to disprove the latter assertion, if not improve the former statistic.
Gene Gunnels, a musician and owner of the Hot Diggity Dog stand, does his part every December. The effort began about six years ago, when friends and colleagues pitched in to help Gunnels get his business off the ground. “When the holidays came around, I thought I would like to give back to the community,” he says. Naturally, he chose to serve hot dogs to the hungry and homeless, offering a variety of options. “It lets [them] feel like their choices are important to us, and that makes them smile,” he says.
Several food trucks have since joined in, volunteering time, food and facilities; others donate food, blankets and other necessities. “We know we cannot change the homeless situation by doing this,” Gunnells says. “But we do want to put a smile on a few faces for at least a day.”
Jordan Cohen, a drummer with Blue Man Group, has been organizing a drive for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission for almost a decade. Along with fellow Blue Man cast and crew, Cohen gathers food, toiletries, clothing, household items and toys. “I wanted to do something for the community, and I saw the homeless problem growing,” he says. “When you do charitable things, you can’t get away from the fact that you feel good about yourself, but then you get over it and do the work.”
Merideth Spriggs has a personal interest in helping the homeless: When the recession hit in 2008, she briefly joined their ranks. “I saw how it could happen to anybody: I was homeless with a master’s degree.” Now she works with the Downtown Rangers on their homeless outreach program, connecting the less fortunate with shelter and other services. She’s also begun working on a partnership with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department called the Giving Project. “It’s a safe space where the homeless can come and people can give,” she says. The next Giving Project is from 9:30 a.m.-noon December 13 at the American Legion-Las Vegas Post 8, 733 N. Veterans Memorial Drive.