Homeless Advocates Seek Funding from Nevada Lawmakers

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A Nevada Assembly panel heard Monday from homeless advocates - who spent a cold night camped in tents and cardboard boxes outside the Legislature to call attention to their efforts to get more state funding.

The advocates spoke in support of AB126, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, that would spend $20 million
in state funds on homeless services. That's more than double the $9
million that was appropriated in 2005.

The Assembly Health and Human Services Committee heard from
activists, police, academics, and current and former homeless people who painted a grim picture of life for the state's estimated 16,000 homeless people.

Several speakers pointed out that Nevada, with a per capita rate of homeless that's second only to the rate in Washington, D.C., spends massive sums on emergency services for the homeless. The state could save some of that money by spending more on housing and
supportive services, argued Richard Bartholet, who directed a University of Nevada, Reno study on homelessness.

"So we're paying, right now, for homeless services," said Leslie, summing up Bartholet's study. "But that money is not being used effectively."

Bartholet said his study found that the city of Reno spent over $1 million on homeless-related 911 calls and responses in 2005. Those cases cost an average of about $1,000 each.

Reno police officer Patrick O'Bryan echoed that sentiment. He said police spend too much time on "crisis management," dealing with homeless people suffering from illness and poverty.

"The reason I'm here is out of frustration," said O'Bryan. "Send us after the truly violent people that need to go to prison, not the homeless."

James Walker, a formerly homeless man, said that the state's supportive services allowed him to get off drugs, and get himself
and his daughter off the street.

"I was unemployed, disabled, and had emotional and psychological issues," said Walker. "Being unable to manage permanent gainful employment, I hustled on the streets."

The federal government's commitment to housing has been weak for
decades, said National Coalition for the Homeless director Michael
Stoops. Federal spending on housing totaled $82 billion in 1979, but is just over $30 billion now, he said.

Stoops also complimented homeless activists on their Sunday night camp-out in freezing weather. He called it the largest he'd seen on any college campus or state capitol.

Stoops cited the main causes of homelessness as lack of affordable housing and health care, followed by poor-paying jobs and domestic violence. The state should look to housing that includes supportive services as the solution, he said.

Clark County got 300 chronically homeless people off the street with such services in the past two years, said Assistant County Manager Darryl Martin.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)