Reno and Clark County representatives, backed by dozens of homeless advocates, said Wednesday they support a bill that would funnel $20 million over two years to local governments to help eradicate homelessness in Nevada.
Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and Clark County Assistant City Manager Darryl Martin asked lawmakers to keep up the momentum in dealing with Nevada's homeless problem, and outlined successes from a $9 million infusion approved by the 2005 Legislature for homeless programs.
James Walker, on the streets for 10 years, said transitional housing in Las Vegas helped him kick a drug addiction, get a job and find a home. He urged the Assembly Ways and Means Committee to approve AB126, providing the new funding, so others can have similar successes.
"One of the things it's hard to get across is how scary it is, how much we want to stay under the radar, how hard it is for us to get the things we need because we are so afraid to go get it," said Walker, adding, "We learn how to survive in the dark and we use those survival skills to continue, even though it keeps us in the dark."
"I'm going to be a productive citizen again," he said. "It would be a larger tragedy for there to be no room for others to follow me."
Nevada has the highest percentage of homeless people in the country, next to Washington D.C., according to Richard Bartholet with the Nevada Small Business Development Center. The state has about 16,000 homeless people at any given time, but those who experience homelessness each year could be two to three times that number, he said.
Cashell said money from the 2005 session helped build several facilities that feed and house homeless women, men and families. He said matching funds from several foundations doubled the city's $5 million share of the funding.
Cashell also said the city's goal is to end homelessness, not just manage it.
"Our next step, which we are here today to ask for help in, is to come up with adequate housing. ... Once we get these people on their feet a little bit, we can help get them someplace to solve their problems rather than putting them out on the street where they will come back," Cashell said.
Martin also thanked lawmakers for Clark County's $4 million share of the 2005 funding, saying it was used to help house more than 300 people.
"Our focus was on getting these chronic homeless individuals into housing first," Martin said, adding that the county followed up with mental health and substance abuse counseling.
Martin also said that not providing funding for programs can be costly, He said the county had previously tracked seven chronic homeless people and found the cost of medical bills and community services they received added up to $800,000.