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Las Vegas, a city that’s globally known for its luxe hotel industry and overheated rental market, is currently corralling some homeless people into a concrete parking lot, where they’ll sleep out part of the coronavirus pandemic in painted squares spaced six feet apart.
Officials in Southern Nevada scrambled to create the temporary, albeit controversial, outdoor “shelter” space this weekend after a large, 500-bed shelter run by Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada had to suddenly close over a positive case of the coronavirus.
That closure risked scattering unsheltered people throughout the county, where there are currently 750-plus recorded cases of the contagious respiratory illness.
So Clark County, where more than 5,200 homeless people were sleeping in shelters and on the streets in 2019, chose to open up a parking lot near a convention center as a quick solution to help people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get into nearby shelters. (The convention center is being set aside for possible hospital overflow.) The parking lot has been fitted with portable toilets and hand-washing stations, according to the New York Times.
While photos circulating on social media showed homeless people sleeping directly on the concrete, the city has since laid down easy-to-clean blue mats, according to the Guardian. The “shelter” is only expected to remain open through this week.
“Look, this is an emergency situation. People are always going to criticize. But the city and county are working to ensure people can get the resources they need,” Jace Radke, a spokesperson for the city of Las Vegas, told the Guardian.
Approximately 150,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas are vacant at the moment that could be put to use housing the homeless, Julian Castro, former presidential candidate and Obama-era secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said in a tweet Monday. Meanwhile, leaders of the casino and hotel industries — the linchpin of Las Vegas’ tourism-based economy — have pleaded with Congress for emergency financial aid due to the sudden loss in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Washington Post.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against moving homeless people around unless it’s to place them in individual housing units. Other cities with squeezed resources and burgeoning homeless populations have rushed to get vulnerable people indoors, sometimes even buying up vacant hotel rooms, as advocates and politicians pointed out.
Cover: People prepare places to sleep in area marked by painted boxes on the ground of a parking lot at a makeshift camp for the homeless Monday, March 30, 2020, in Las Vegas. Officials opened part of a parking lot as a makeshift homeless shelter after a local shelter closed when a man staying there tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Locher)