Homeless count finds numerous camps, but not many people
August 28, 2008
David S. sat outside a temporary employment service on North Carson Street just after 5 a.m. Thursday reading a book.
Every day, the shy 48-year-old welder catches a bus from Carson City’s homeless shelter, Focus House, into town with the hope that he’ll find a day job.
Two or three times a week his prayer is answered. But at $35 a week for shelter rent, plus the cost of food, “you can’t really get ahead,” he said.
Robert, another shelter tenant, knows how hard Dave works.
“He’s here every day,” Robert said.
Robert said he was leaving today to go back to his family in Texas.
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But for Dave, who seemed almost too shy to speak, it feels like the end of the road.
What does he need the most?
“A job, is the main thing,” he said.
In the wee hours of the morning Thursday, 21 volunteers spread out across the city to count the homeless.
The numbers collected during the Point in Time count will be added to numbers gathered all week of people living in motels, shelters and transitional housing. Totals will be sent to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses the numbers to allot federal funding.
Jack Price, 55, is a volunteer who, just a year ago, was himself living at the Focus House, the city’s only men’s shelter.
He spent three years without a home, 18 months of that living on the streets of Carson City.
Though 20 percent of the nation’s homeless suffer from mental illness or addiction, Veteran’s Administration statistics show that four out of every five homeless people are capable of working.
Jack, a former food and beverage manager at a Las Vegas casino, said the hardest part about his own homelessness was not only wondering where he’d rest his head at night, but the shame he felt for being in the predicament he was in.
“It really is bad out there. Retaining your self-respect is difficult,” he said. He injured three vertebrae in his back, which made work impossible. “For me to wind up like this, it can happen to anybody.”
Jerry, 35, originally from Oregon, said being able to work but not being able to find work, made his situation nearly unbearable.
“Homelessness is an even huger stress on people who don’t have mental disabilities,” he said.
Some of those who participated in Thursday’s count said age seemed to be a factor in their inability to find jobs.
“I’ve canvassed this town, north, south, east and west, looking for work,” said Steve. “Who wants to hire a 55-year-old, semi-crippled person when you can hire a physically fit 20-year-old?”
He said he and his “better half” spent a week living in his car in the parking lot of Renown Regional Medical Center before finding rooms at the Focus House and Carson City’s women’s shelter, the Wiley House.
“It’s a situation we found ourselves in, not by wanting to be here. I lost my job, and then I lost my place to live,” said the former Lake Tahoe resident of 25 years.
Dave, 62, a computer specialist from Hawthorne, said he came to Carson City to try to secure a job with the state.
“I’d have interviews and I thought they went really well and I’d feel really good about them, but then I wouldn’t get the job. I think I’m too old,” he said. “Before I knew it, I was out of money.”
Frances Ashley, program director of the Carson City Department of Health and Human Services, said the results of Thursday’s count were surprising, because despite several homeless camps found in the fields and brush throughout the city, the surveyors found very few people.
Of the 14 beds she counted in the camps she did find, there were only two men asleep. Ashley woke one of them so she could invite him to lunch at Friends In Service Helping that afternoon.
Another slept under a blanket on a couch in a field off Highway 50 East where he’d carved out a neat little space among the sagebrush and small trees. Tony, 55, another shelter tenant, gingerly walked up the path that the sleeping tenant had lined with stones and left an invitation to lunch on the arm of the couch.
“Seemed to me, the word got out and people are scared,” said Jack. He was adamant that since he was homeless last year, homelessness in Carson City has increased.
Dina Phippen, Health and Human Service’s employee, said a lot of the homeless in the area think the count is a way for law enforcement to round up vagrants.
“They don’t believe that we are just there to count and offer services,” she said. “We do not arrest people.”
Phippen believes that everyone is at risk of living a transient lifestyle. Statistics show that on any given day, 3.5 million people in the United States have no permanent home.
“Even the middle-class,” she said, “we’re all just two paychecks away from homelessness.”
The results of the count were not immediately available.
– Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.