The percentage of Nevadans who are homeless ranks second nationally and is more than double the national average, a new report shows.
Nevada's rate of about 6.8 homeless people per 1,000 state residents in 2005 trailed only the District of Columbia's rate of 10 per 1,000, said the report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The national average is about 2.5 per 1,000.
Advocates for the homeless blame Nevada's high rate on a variety of factors, including drugs, gambling, mental health issues, low wages, high rents and a lack of insurance.
Many of the people being housed by the Interfaith Hospitality Network in Reno have jobs that pay $8.50 an hour but are faced with rents of $600 to $700 a month.
"It's almost impossible to raise children and maintain a household on such low wages," said Elizabeth Dorway, executive director of Family Promise of Reno/Sparks, which coordinates the network that makes arrangements for families to sleep in local churches.
"Many of the families that come to us, a lot of them have jobs and have children, but when a major life event like a medical condition comes up, they have no reserves."
"They are working well, but they don't have the benefits of paid time off or medical insurance. And if they are left without income for a short period of time, then they can end up homeless very quickly," she said.
For the drop-in shelter managed by the Reno-Sparks Gospel Mission, the leading causes of homelessness are drinking, drugs, gambling and mental health issues, said Rick Redding, executive director of the mission.
Many people are lured to Reno with the promise of a job, he said.
"They get a job. They get some money under their pocket. They gamble it away," Redding said.
Bud Cardwell, director of the drop-in center at the shelter for three years, said there is a vicious cycle that often takes hold. Many of the men end up having to work casual labor after losing steady jobs.
"They get paid at the end of the day. The first casino they come to has their business and then they're broke again," Cardwell said. "So they come back to my door."
The alliance said its count using a nationwide organization called Continuums of Care in 2005 is the first attempt in a decade to count the nation's homeless population. It counted as homeless those who live in the streets as well as those who live in shelters or transitional housing, like motels.
Nan Roman, president of the alliance, said lack of affordable housing is the driving force nationally.
"If you have to pay first and last months' rents and deposits to get back into an apartment, that's got to be several thousand dollars," Roman said. "Someone working minimum wage doesn't havethat in their bank account."
Redding said another issue is mental health. He estimates 60 percent of the people at the drop-in shelter use some kind of psychotropic drug to maintain their mental health.
"I'm not saying these are crazy people walking around talking to themselves," Redding said. "They have an illness and they are controlling it through meds (medication) and it is causing problems for them."
Redding also cited drug use, particularly methamphetamine.
"Once somebody starts meth, they will lose everything in a real hurry," he said.
Roman said communities that make progress in reducing homelessness are the ones that try to intervene early and prevent people from losing their homes, such as by helping them with rent payments so they don't get evicted.