County directs $1.8 million in pot fees to help homeless

Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown and Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick during a commission meeting May 21.

The Clark County Commission unanimously approved $1.8 million of marijuana business license fees be allocated to help homeless youth and medically fragile homeless.

Tuesday’s vote comes after commissioners’ commitment in January to use the more than $9 million generated from the business licenses to go toward homeless services.

“We should have done this a long time ago, but I’m glad we’ve started now,” said Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick. “This is good for our community for the long term.”

The county directed $855,000 to expand services at HELP of Southern Nevada’s Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, which can house up to 166 at-risk youth from ages 16 to 22. Mike Pawlak, director of the county Department of Social Service, said the funds are expected to add 76 new beds along with needed caseworkers to provide wraparound services.

Additionally, the county will allocate $930,000 to go toward rapidly rehousing homeless individuals who have been discharged from the hospital. The county has contracted HELP of Southern Nevada and Health Plan of Nevada to aid medically fragile homeless obtain housing as well as case management. Pawlak said an additional 60 clients will be assisted.

“These two projects today represent the first two projects for the strategic plan that you have directed us to bring forward to spend marijuana license fee money to support the homeless,” he said.

Southern Nevada has been struggling to address its homeless and affordable housing crisis — something it can’t do without adequate funding.

On any given night, around 6,100 people experience homelessness in Southern Nevada. An estimated 64 percent are unsheltered. About 1,400 people are identified in the Homeless Management Information System queue as waiting for housing and other services.

During a March presentation to the County Commission, Assistant County Manager Kevin Schiller said it all comes back to “housing, housing, housing.” “The capacity issue tied to housing is critical at this point,” he said.

With the money generated by marijuana business license fees, Pawlak said the county is in a rare spot to use a new funding source to provide some solutions.

Since there are nearly 1,200 homeless youth in Southern Nevada, the county made them a top priority for assistance.

The county has had a long-standing partnership with HELP of Southern Nevada. It had previously allocated funding from community block grants in order for the Shannon West Youth Shelter, which was formerly located within the homeless corridor near downtown, to relocate to a facility close to UNLV.

The shelter is at capacity, prompting the county to direct resources toward an already existing program.

“You told us to not reinvent the wheel and that we should partner with local community members,” he added. “The money was to be invested in programs that were proven and high performing.”

Going forward, he added the county will prioritize other areas that need funding.

“One of the next things we will hopefully be bringing forward is expanding permanent housing options,” Pawlak said. “We have an initiative to take some youth who might be involved in justice-related matters who wouldn’t be in our system if they had stable housing.”

The county’s move to allocate marijuana fees comes as government officials across the state try to figure out how to better fund homeless services and affordable housing.

County Commissioner Tick Segerblom is proposing to increase the county tax for grow, production and retail of marijuana to 3 percent, which he said could generate another $2 million — his proposal was supposed to be debated Tuesday but was rescheduled to be discussed in July.

“We saw today we gave away about $2 million,” Segerblom said referring to the homeless services that received money for the business license fee.

The City of Las Vegas has also been trying to figure out how to gain more funding for homeless services. The city originally rallied behind legislation that would have generated an estimated $20 million to go toward homeless and affordable housing projects by increasing a sewer fee and the real property transfer tax.

Instead, the proposed language was rewritten to require municipalities to collaborate on a comprehensive response to study alternative funding sources.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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