By Mark Waite
About 20 squatters living in the desert east of Highway 160 face an Oct. 1 deadline to move.
The publicity about the installation of port-a-potties for the homeless living in the desert got back to the property owners, according to the Rev. Richard Fenton, from Helping Hands 4 Jesus.
“There’s about four different landowners that have contacted me. They have all wanted the people moved because of the liability and they’ve been out there just too long,” said Fenton, who ministers to the homeless.
The eviction was postponed temporarily after Fenton suggested a desert cleanup in that area, conducted by volunteers from church and youth groups earlier this month.
In early July, Nye County Commissioners voted 3-2 against renting three port-a-potties for $210 per month to serve the growing homeless population. It was touted as a way to clean up the area, but other commissioners had concerns over private property rights or the role of government in providing the amenities.
Fenton said a woman in town who wished to remain anonymous raised the money to buy three port-a-potties and put them out there.
“So we put them back out and all the hubbub about it, I guess, attracted attention by the landowners that the homeless were out there,” Fenton said. “Some of them didn’t know and were ignoring it and some of them found out.”
Records on file with the assessor’s office show Basin Panorama Investors, in Las Vegas, owns a 160-acre tract in the disputed area between Basin Avenue on the south, Wilson Road on the north, Powerline Road on the east and Oyster Street on the west. The Madsen Family Ltd. of Las Vegas owns a 40-acre parcel in the area, while three smaller tracts are owned by Kinman Poon and M and R Shevach, of Las Vegas.
The property owners banded together and notified Fenton; the cleanup was suggested first.
“If they were to leave immediately they wouldn’t be able to take their housing with them because there’s travel trailers out there and motor homes and campers. They don’t have vehicles so they have been put out for them to live in. If they were to leave, it would be up to the property owners to bear the expense of cleaning out the property themselves,” Fenton said.
Some of the campers were arranged through his mission.
“The intent was to help a homeless person sleeping in the desert and under a tree,” Fenton said. “Now the owners of the land are saying we don’t want you out there. Now we’re looking for another spot.”
As to where they will go, Fenton at this time doesn’t have a clue. Pahrump doesn’t have a homeless shelter. Fenton said he can’t tell people where to camp, because they might be on someone’s property, only where they can’t camp. He’s been handing out maps showing the forbidden area.
Fenton said property owners were told the roads out in the desert weren’t legally accepted by the county and could be blocked off with no trespassing signs.
Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said the squatters have been a blight on the property. The sheriff’s department could evict them any time the property owners desire, he said.
“We haven’t been contacted, but I know the property owners have expressed sincere displeasure over the conduct of the people in those encampments. Actually BLM contacted me over a year ago. They are going to be in the process of evicting people off BLM property,” DeMeo said.
Fenton sits on the Community Crisis Intervention Committee, which is working on trying to address the homeless problem. The committee works with the homeless and people who are one step away, that are unable to pay the power bill or have fallen through the cracks, he said.
DeMeo said some of the homeless are under psychiatric care, abusing drugs or alcohol. The homeless often panhandle for money. There’s been a few crimes committed in the homeless camps, the squatters have also committed crimes in town, he said.
But the sheriff said Nye County doesn’t have the services for a homeless shelter.
Property owners in that area have made sheriff’s deputies authorized agents to enforce their will, DeMeo said.
“They asked advisement on that. We told them if you want people off the property we’ll respond there with deputies,” DeMeo said. “If the people don’t get off the property, Oct. 2nd I can guarantee you the Nye County Sheriff’s Office will be there.”