Photo by Bridget Bennett

The Heartbreak of the Las Vegas Homeless

All of us see and experience the plight of the chronically homeless on the street corners of our community. The epicenter for the homeless is around the main campus of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada at Las Vegas Boulevard and Foremaster Lane. Thankfully, there are many local community organizations—The Shade Tree, Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Three Square, Salvation Army and other nonprofit partners—that are committed to supporting the homeless with food services, shelter and work program resources to help them positively transform their lives.

The ultimate goal for our homeless population should be to give them the tools and resources that they need to achieve self-sufficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2017 annual report, Las Vegas/Clark County ranked eighth in the nation among major metropolitan areas for the largest number of homeless people. This is a sobering statistic and a reminder that our mission is important to the well-being of those most vulnerable among us, who need us all to be the mechanisms of help and hope in order for them to succeed and prosper.

Volunteers bless the meal, prior to it being served, at Catholic Charities in Las Vegas on March 15, 2018 | Photo by Bridget Bennett

The complicated reality is that some well-intended folks who offer clothes and food on the street actually exacerbate the problem of chronic homelessness, enabling our struggling brothers and sisters to remain outside rather than going inside to the organizations that can offer the services they need. Street feeding creates dangerous physical issues that our clients face as they navigate the world. Rodents, food remnants and trash, human waste and the spread of disease are just the tip of the iceberg.

An example of a thoughtful and well-coordinated philanthropy effort occurred at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada just before Thanksgiving, when the Excalibur prepared and served a meal in our dining room to 1,500 men, women and children. We accept individuals and groups of volunteers from our community every day at the St. Vincent Lied Dining Facility and in the Hands of Hope Community Food Pantry. We provide food and other resources to our clients, with their welfare in mind. Please work alongside of us, and with us, to give resources to those in need with efficiency, safety and compassion.                                                            

Deacon Tom Roberts directs people coming in for a meal at Catholic Charities | Photo by Bridget Bennett

My message to those who want to help make a positive difference for our homeless community is to redirect your generosity to one of the area nonprofits that can do the most good. We are well equipped and trained to deal with our vulnerable sisters and brothers by inviting them inside to access our facilities and our resources. It’s much more humane and effective to encourage our clients to come inside to get a quality meal, wash their hands and use a restroom, rather than fend for themselves in the elements.

Those of us who provide services to the homeless and to low-income individuals and families depend on the generosity of the Southern Nevada community to support us in providing these life-sustaining resources, and to support us with the stewardship gifts of time, talents and treasures. I am often asked, “Deacon Tom, if I see folks out on the side of the road, what I should do?” My response is not to focus on judgment, but instead to open your heart and to share your dignity and compassion with them. I offer the homeless a 24-hour RTC bus pass and a courtesy card to invite them to come to Catholic Charities for help and hope. Follow your heart and give in a way that will make you feel good for the gifts that you’ve been given—and do it responsibly, so that your generosity will result in the best of outcomes for those in the greatest need.

Deacon Tom Roberts sits and talks with Jacquelyn Gabriel during a meal at Catholic Charities | Photo by Bridget Bennett

At Catholic Charities alone, we house an average of 500 homeless men every night in our emergency shelter, while hundreds more seek shelter at partner organizations such as The Shade Tree, Salvation Army and the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. Working together, we can identify the Corridor or Hope’s missing resources and fill in the gaps. One of the great initiatives underway now is a collaboration between the City of Las Vegas, health care professionals and local nonprofits to bring mental health and addiction resources into the Corridor. If we are going to eradicate systemic homelessness, we need to address and invest in mental health and addiction resources. This approach can help us to get to the root cause of chronic homelessness, and to help those who are struggling to get back on their path to independence and happiness.

Photo by Bridget Bennett

We depend on the community to support our mission to provide help and hope to anyone who needs it, regardless of race, religion or creed. My heartfelt thanks to so many generous Southern Nevadans that volunteer and financially support Catholic Charities and our sister nonprofits.

Sadly, these issues are challenging—and growing. From monetary and food donations to volunteerism, every contribution—big and small—makes a world of difference.

Deacon Tom Roberts is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.