November 6, 2011; Source: Las Vegas Review-JournalLike other cities and rural areas throughout the country, Las Vegas has been grappling with the challenge of how to effectively respond to an increase in its homeless population with fewer resources than in previous years. In a recent story, the Las Vegas Review-Journal highlights the challenges that exist for nonprofit organizations that support homeless populations by noting the discrepancy of results from a January count that revealed an overall decrease in the city’s homeless population but an increase in demand at area shelters. The story points to the unexpected “sharp increase” in the number of unsheltered or “street” homeless as the key underlying problem, and one that nonprofit leaders, city officials, and representatives from faith-based organizations are working to try to solve. 

According to the story, Las Vegas’s assumption of more of Nevada’s Medicaid budget has cut into funds that in past years have been available for support programs for the homeless. As an example, the budget for the county’s emergency rental assistance program, which provides $400 a month to eligible individuals at risk of homelessness, has been slashed from $12 million two years ago to $3.8 million this year. Whereas two years ago individuals had 90 days of support through this program, today they have 30. 

For perspective on how nonprofit organizations are responding to these new challenges, the Review-Journal talked with Linda Lera-Randle El, director of Straight from the Streets, a homeless outreach program, who said that recent budget cuts risk undercutting progress that has come from collaboration with other organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, and the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. “Whatever we accomplish in one area is taken away in another,” she said. “We come together and unify and support each other, and then somebody pulls the rug out.” 

The story points to a recent recommendation by social service providers that churches and other faith-based organizations assume the role of sponsoring a homeless individual or family for a year, following the model established by nonprofit Family Promise. The goal would be for the church or organization to provide a human face to the individual family with routine challenges such as registering for benefits. Still, the Review-Journal notes that there are some who believe a more effective solution would be for churches to lend their support to preexisting organizations. What do you think?—Anne Eigeman