Photos of homeless people in Las Vegas sleeping in a concrete parking lot, separated by drawn up six-foot boxes, sparked outrage early this week. The city said the decision came after a shelter housing about 500 people was temporarily forced to close.
Clark County and City of Las Vegas officials issued a joint news release over the weekend about having to close a Catholic Charities shelter after a homeless person who was using the facility tested positive for COVID-19. Officials said they set up a temporary makeshift shelter in the parking lot of the Cashman Center, just miles away from the Vegas Strip.
Photos from Saturday show a carpet installed in the parking lot, but pictures from Monday showed just concrete and an individual blanket underneath the people in the boxes. A city of Las Vegas spokesperson told CBS News there was carpeting, but said it couldn’t “adequately be sanitized.”
“We don’t have enough mats for everyone,” the spokesperson said. “We are trying to get more but are having a hard time. We’ll continue to provide this temporary respite, while practicing social distancing, for anyone who is suffering from homelessness.”
The Catholic Charities shelter is slated to reopen later this week. The city is also reserving building spaces inside the Cashman Center for potential hospital overflow.
Julian Castro, a former Democratic presidential candidate, criticized the decision, noting some closed hotels on the Vegas Strip are not being used due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“After criminalizing homelessness this year, Las Vegas is now packing people into concrete grids out of sight,” he tweeted. “There are 150K hotel rooms in Vegas going unused right now. How about public-private cooperation (resources) to temporarily house them there? And fund permanent housing!”
The Nevada Homeless Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for solutions for homelessness in Southern Nevada, also criticized the decision. Alongside a Facebook photo of the makeshift shelter, the group wrote, “We need to do better.”
“Nevada, a state in one of the richest countries in the world, has painted social-distancing boxes on a concrete parking lot for the homeless to sleep in,” one person wrote on Twitter.
In response to the criticism, a Las Vegas spokesperson told CBS News that “the city of Las Vegas, Clark County and our partners are working to ensure that the homeless population has a safe place to go where they are able to social distance.”
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