An estimated 13,972 people are expected to experience homelessness in Southern Nevada this year. (Photo by Ronda Churchill)
After a steady decline in homelessness over the last several years, recent data found an uptick in people living on the streets this year, including families.
The recent results from the 2022 Point-in-Time Count and Survey, conducted in February, showed the largest increase in homelessness since 2019 and found 5,645 people experiencing homelessness. The number was 5,083 in 2021
An estimated 13,972 people are expected to experience homelessness in Southern Nevada this year compared to 13,076 in 2021 and 2020.
“What we are seeing is the impact of the pandemic,” said Tim Burch, the administrator of human services for Clark County. “The wave of the pandemic crashed on the rock of a housing crisis so we have these two things coming together where we have a lot of people out of work and behind on rent.”
Some social service providers are wary about comparing the 2022 results to the previous year’s numbers due to changes in the counting process brought on by the pandemic.
Kelly Robson, the chief social officer at HELP of Southern Nevada, said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “has strongly recommended to view the 2021 Point-in-Time Count as a stand-alone data set.”
Despite the change in methodology, Burch said the numbers have hovered around 5,000 for years.
The increase isn’t only among individuals experiencing homelessness but also among families. The 2021 report identified 306 people with children in the homeless count. That number increased to 516 in 2022.
Robson again stressed a comparison can’t be made because of the way the count was conducted.
“Anecdotally what we have seen at HELP is an increase in families due to the eviction moratorium ending, unemployment benefits ending and the rents increasing,” she said. “We have also seen an increase in families sleeping in their cars.”
During a tour with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in April, HELP said prior to the pandemic they were offering case management to 50 families, but the number had since exploded to 400.
Even when families qualify for assistance, Burch said they still struggle to obtain apartments.
“We know of families who have government subsidized housing vouchers who can’t find an apartment that will accept the voucher because of the massive increase in rents and the competition for properties out there,” he said.
The county, he added, has increased prevention efforts to try to catch families at risk of slipping into homelessness. He said the social service department is working “in conjunction with our child welfare department as a preventive measure because we don’t want families from being separated … just because they are homeless.”
Burch said the results would have been far worse if Southern Nevada didn’t have federal relief dollars to prop up a rental assistance program, known as the CARES Housing Assistance Program, that helped people avoid eviction.
The county also used federal dollars to pay for rooms at hotels and extended-stay properties to provide non-congregate shelter.
“We master leased hundreds of hotel rooms with the federal dollars which we hadn’t been able to do in the past,” Burch said. “That gave us new units and capacity so we were able to pull people off the streets that would normally stay there.”
The state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented eviction moratoria starting in 2020, which acted as a safety net for some people facing eviction and prevented many from entering homelessness. Though a recent congressional report found some extended stay hotels, including Siegel Suites, evicted people regardless of the moratoria even while receiving rental assistance.
Lawmakers passed legislation in 2021 that froze evictions if tenants were waiting for rental assistance.
But relief efforts can only go so far without more affordable housing units.
“All of our programs we stood up during the pandemic, we’re still keeping them going, but they are at capacity,” Burch said. “We need more units.”
Prior to the pandemic, Burch said Southern Nevada lacked around 70,000 units of affordable housing, but the number is close to 80,000. The statewide deficit is about 105,000.
Gov. Steve Sisolak pledged to use $500 million in federal relief dollars provided by the American Rescue Plan Act to address affordable housing, and the Nevada Housing Division is currently reviewing proposals.
Rents which have increased more than 20% in Southern Nevada since 2020 have also forced families out of their homes.
Robson said in addition to the lack of affordable housing, the biggest challenge is “landlords not willing to work with housing programs and the clients we serve.”
The county has created a landlord incentive program. Robson said the program is giving a $1,000 signing bonus “to landlords willing to house our clients”
The county has been able to attract 106 new landlords this year willing to take clients waiting for housing. There are around 5,000 people on the community queue in Southern Nevada who have received a housing assessment and are waiting for placement.
Racial disparities, disabling conditions
For years, numbers have shown homelessness among the Black population considerably higher than other races, consistently making up more than 30% of people experiencing homelessness during the point in time count.
The recent report continued to show trends in racial disparities: 37% of those counted are Black compared to 52% who are white. Southern Nevada’s population is about 42% white and 12% Black.
Southern Nevada Continuum of Care, the network of nonprofits and providers addressing homelessness, “is currently looking at racial disparities throughout the whole homeless system, not just the street homeless,” Robson said.
Burch said a disproportionate number of Black males in particular who experience homelessness is “a reflection of other social ills.”
“The contributors align with a lot of the other social issues where there is overlay of justice involvement and lack of mental health and substance abuse treatment for communities of color that exacerbate these issues,” he added. “You wind up with someone who has fallen through multiple systems and not received the help they need, then find themselves homeless.”
The survey also found 74% of people experiencing homelessness reported one or more disabling conditions, which includes substance abuse and mental health conditions.
“These are self-report numbers,” Burch said. “Typically self-report numbers are underreported, so we know the issue is larger than that.”
The data showed that 36% reported a substance abuse issue, 33% identified a mental health condition, 3% experienced domestic violence and 2% were living with HIV/AIDS.
Burch said people entering homelessness can trigger initial episodes of anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, which “makes it harder for them to get off the streets.”
“We know a lot of people begin to self medicate while they are on the street to deal with the stress of always being in survival mode,” he said. “We talk about housing as health care. You also have to be stably housed to get treatment. You can’t complete outpatient drug treatment then go sleep in the streets and expect to be completely successful in treatment.”
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