Las Vegas and Coronavirus: Homeless folks in a parking zone

The casinos are deserted and thousands of hotel rooms are empty. But when Las Vegas, hit by the coronavirus, needed space for a temporary homeless shelter, officials chose a place with no walls or even a roof: an outdoor parking lot.

The city of Las Vegas and Clark County opened the shelter on the upper floor of a convention center parking lot on Saturday after a 500-person shelter run by Catholic charities was temporarily closed after a homeless person tested positive for the coronavirus there.

Touro University medical students wearing protective clothing were hired to screen each homeless person for coronavirus symptoms before entering the parking lot, which is partially covered with blue matting and closed off by metal barriers. The “animal shelter” will remain open until Friday, when the reopening of the shelter of the Catholic charities is expected after a joint declaration by the city and district.

More than 6,500 Las Vegas residents have no permanent housing and nearly 70 percent of the city’s homeless sleep outside, according to the Las Vegas government. With a nearby homeless shelter overcrowded, officials decided to expand into the parking lot of the Cashman Center Convention Complex, which is about seven miles from the Las Vegas Strip.

More than 50 volunteers laid 24,000 square feet of carpet for the homeless as sleeping mats, six feet apart to comply with social distancing protocols, said David Riggleman, a Las Vegas city spokesman. The shelter also has portable toilets and washing stations.

“It was a logistical heavy load transport,” said Riggleman, describing the efforts, which were essentially carried out with a period of one day. “That was a lot to stick together in a very short time.”

Officials chose to use the parking lot in place of the convention complex buildings to reserve the indoor space for a possible hospital overflow, he said.

Even so, the city has made an effort to provide the temporary services while addressing hygiene and virus concerns. At first, officials had hoped to have the carpet cleaned every day, but later found that the service provider couldn’t adequately disinfect the material, Riggleman said, and so many sleep on concrete.

Las Vegas officials said they were concerned about the long-term financial impact of the coronavirus shutdown. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on Sunday imposed a 90-day moratorium on all evictions and foreclosures in the state in an attempt to stave off some of the worst economic repercussions.

But Mr Riggleman said it was not clear whether this would be enough to prevent the city’s homeless population from rising.

“We know we’re on a bumpy road,” said Riggleman.

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