LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- A temporary set-up by the City of Las Vegas and Clark County for some of the valley's homeless population faced criticism on Monday.
Catholic Charities closed its largest shelter March 25 after a homeless client tested positive for COVID-19, leaving hundreds without a place to sleep.
Over the weekend, the City of Las Vegas and Clark County partnered to designate the Cashman Center parking lot for relocation. The open-air arrangement provided materials for people to sleep on, including partially carpeted areas of the parking lot.
We don’t have enough mats for everyone. We are trying to get more but are having a hard time. We’ll continue to provide this temporary respite, while practicing social distancing, for anyone who is suffering from homelessness. We look forward to Catholic Charities reopening soon.— City of Las Vegas (@CityOfLasVegas) March 30, 2020
Photos shared Monday by several media outlets showed grid markings on the asphalt to keep people distanced.
"We are looking forward to Catholic Charities reopening any day now so that clients can once again be housed there," City of Las Vegas tweeted Monday. They asked if someone is able to get them "hundreds of mats," to reach out.
The arrangement caught the eye of several advocacy groups, as well as former presidential candidate Julian Castro, after the set-up was repeatedly called a "temporary shelter" by city and county officials.
"After criminalizing homelessness this year, Las Vegas is now packing people into concrete grids out of sight," he said on Twitter.
After criminalizing homelessness this year, Las Vegas is now packing people into concrete grids out of sight.There are 150K hotel rooms in Vegas going unused right now. How about public-private cooperation (resources) to temporarily house them there? And fund permanent housing! pic.twitter.com/wxZ4ZD6Jtc— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) March 30, 2020
ACLU of Nevada called for additional measures to house the homeless, echoing Castro's statements of a public-private partnership.
Forcing people to sleep on the pavement without shelter is completely unacceptable and inhumane. People deserve a dignified solution, medical screenings, access to healthcare, and an adequate place to sleep. People need to be inside and in conditions that allow them to appropriately distance themselves. Erecting an emergency shelter that provides the same essential services as current shelters is an acceptable temporary option until public-private agreements are in place to shelter at-risk individuals in hotel rooms or other accommodations, but this is not that. - ACLU of Nevada Policy Director Holly Welborn
Matthew O'Brien, founder of Shine A Light and author of "Beneath the Neon," said the people at Cashman Center are not able to practice social distancing and need to be in separate rooms as well as have immediate access to a proper restroom.
The City of Las Vegas said clients had access to restrooms at the nearby Homeless Courtyard, about a half-mile away.
“I would have liked to have seen the public and private sectors in Las Vegas work together to provide appropriate temporary shelter for the homeless. Perhaps a weekly motel, a hotel, or repurpose an existing building to house them in. Or, at the very least, house them inside of Cashman Field, as opposed to in the parking lot," said O'Brien. “Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and solutions.”
Doctors and medical students from Touro University were evaluating those going to Cashman Center. According to David Riggleman, spokesman for the city, if a client is symptomatic for COVID-19 or any illness, an ambulance is called to take them to the hospital. Those who refuse are not forced to go.
Riggleman said the city is working on a plan to increase the ability to screen, as well as isolate or quarantine those who have symptoms or test positive.
"As you know, people who have had contact with someone testing positive for the coronavirus need a place to quarantine. Also, those who test positive need a place for isolation if their condition doesn’t warrant hospitalization. These situations present unique challenges for the homeless," he said.
O'Brien called the set-up "insufficient."
“This crisis is providing all of us with perspective and the opportunity to assess things and consider how we might approach them differently. ... My hope is that somehow the city will learn from this and previous experiences and emerge with a more compassionate and effective approach to the issue,” O'Brien said.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.