Under a sign that reads “express the love of Christ by serving and caring for people in need,” workers in Vegas’ Lutheran Social Service office face the more complicated task of figuring out exactly how to do that.
Connecting the increasing number of people facing homelessness today with available resources can be a navigational nightmare—the Valley has a convoluted network of well-meaning outreach programs, and directing people to the right door is sometimes a challenge. This fall, more than 35 local social-service organizations attempted to streamline solutions by coming together to create a “No Wrong Door” plan for $4.2 million in federal stimulus money sent to the county to address the issue.
“Everyone’s going to be trained to ask the right questions,” says Patrick Montejano of Lutheran Social Services. “Now, instead of saying ‘No’ [if the need isn’t one the agency specializes in], we say, ‘How can we help?’”
The federal money—dubbed the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program—is intended to “prevent the unnecessary homelessness by persons negatively affected in the downturn of the economy in this first decade in the 21st century,” according to a county report. The rub is to get the money pushed from the feds to Clark County and through several levels of social-service agencies into the hands of the needy—quickly. Traditionally, there have been some coordination problems—different outreach organizations duplicate some services, while none provide other services, according to some activists—making it tough for people to find the help they need in time to prevent homelessness or, conversely, to get food and shelter after losing a home.
“In the past it seemed that no one was working together,” says homeless advocate Gail Sacco, who routinely provides food and resources to the homeless.
“In my opinion, the effectiveness and coordination of the Valley’s homeless outreach organizations has been horrible. The nonprofits—most work on their own. The good nonprofits are overwhelmed with clients and are doing the best they can to actually help individual people.”
In shepherding the $4.2 million through a three-tiered disbursement system, county officials hope to eliminate some of that confusion. Clark County Social Services will fiscally monitor the funds, while three agencies were signed on last week to be service providers: HELP of Southern Nevada, Henderson Allied Community Advocates (HopeLink) and Lutheran Social Services. Those three will each contract with five smaller, front-line outreach organizations to disburse money to those in need, says Tim Burch, assistant director of Clark County Social Services.
Social Services has seen an increase in needs of all kinds across the county in recent years—in 2005, the agency received 94,161 requests for help; in 2009, that number is projected to be 188,330.
“It is hoped that the No Wrong Door concept will prove to be a client-friendly way of delivering assistance to residents in need, enabling them to visit a single location, be considered for multiple programs and ultimately receive assistance from the one most appropriate for their situation,” County Manager Virginia Valentine wrote in a county report.
“Obviously local, state and federal governments are needed. And the big nonprofits who receive big grants are needed,” Sacco says. “But it is the little nonprofits and individuals who fill in the gaps the best we can.”
The $4.2 million to assist the newly jobless or those who can otherwise “demonstrate need” should be available in mid-to-late-January, Montejano says. In time, a website will be created to direct people to appropriate outreach sites. “For now, send people to the agencies—HopeLink, HELP of Southern Nevada, or us.”