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Homeless leery of winter outreach effort

Being homeless during any time of the year is a struggle.

Factor in extreme winter temperatures and the situation becomes life threatening.

As temperatures in the Pahrump Valley dipped below the freezing point last weekend, a small group of local residents felt it was necessary to help those who cannot shield themselves from the frigid conditions.

As such, KNYE Radio Owner Karen Jackson enlisted the help of a few area agencies to provide some relief for Pahrump’s homeless.

Jackson said she was fed up with the lack of action on the part of community leaders who haven’t done enough for individuals and families living in less than humane conditions.

She made just a few phone calls to get the effort underway.

“I have written to the town board about opening up the Bob Ruud Community Center and only two of them responded. Harley Kulkin said he would look into it and Dr. Tom Waters sent it over to our Town Manager Susan Holecheck. Susan does a lot of work with the Salvation Army and the Salvation Army graciously opened up their doors over the weekend. They needed help with volunteers and they brought their canteen truck in from Las Vegas so we could feed them,” she said.

Jackson’s on-air request for volunteers did not go unheeded as dozens of local residents offered their time to assist.

Aside from the Salvation Army’s assistance, crews with Nye County’s Search and Rescue team ventured into the desert offering to transport homeless individuals to the facility.

Unfortunately, Jackson said there were more volunteers than those who were willing to accept her offer of a warm shelter.

“The problem is the homeless were afraid to come down. They were afraid that if they left their things in the desert, someone would take them. They never really had this type of thing offered to them and they were understandably kind of leery of us,” she said.

To assuage the concerns of those who live in encampments in the desert, Jackson said she will actually go out and meet with the people to make them a little more comfortable with the offer.

“I want to just talk with them because the search and rescue crews look very official. Many of the homeless live in the Wheeler Pass area. I want them to feel that they can trust us and not fear us,” she said.

Local resident Kevin Harper volunteered his time over the weekend.

Harper was part of the group who went out and offered a warm shelter to those living in tents.

“We went out behind Smith’s near Wheeler Pass and informed them that there was a shelter open and if anybody needed a ride, we could do that. We were out there for about four hours. I think many of them were a little intimidated. We just did our best to try and help the people. Everybody that we spoke to was very grateful that we came out to try and help them. It was a very positive experience,” he said.

With no actual door to knock on, Harper said crews were able to reach people by identifying who they were and their purpose for the rare visit.

“We had our flashlights and just asked them if they needed any help or assistance. We told them the weather was going to get really cold and there’s hot food and a warm place to stay for a while. If they needed transportation, we could do that but just a few people decided to accept the offer,” he said.

Capt. Mark King from the Pahrump Salvation Army said his organization sprang into action shortly after a conversation with Pahrump’s town manager.

He also said that there were a few limitations involved in the process.

“Susan asked if we could help provide a cold weather warming station. We made it clear that we were not able to set up a traditional shelter because we are not set up at our facility to handle the sleeping of overnight clients but we did want to make our building available. We had the volunteers but on Friday night, we only had two individuals come for assistance. We provided some warm food and drink. On Saturday we had one person come in and on Sunday, nobody came so we closed shop a little early,” he said.

King also said as a result of the light turnout, he was forced to do something that he does not like doing as head of a local charitable organization.

“It was really frustrating on our end that we had to turn volunteers away as an organization, you never want to tell volunteers they are not needed, but that was the reality,” he said.

King did say that more should be done for the valley’s homeless population throughout the entire year and not just during extremely cold and hot weather.

He also spoke about potential liabilities in regards to providing adequate shelter for all who are without a home.

“There certainly is a need and there should be a facility built that would handle the overnight care and shelter for folks. When you go into those kinds of issues, then you have to look at separated areas for men and women. Are you going to separate families? What about children? The reality is not every homeless person has a spotless background. It’s a big liability, which is why we are not involved in that area. We just are not set up for that, which is why there needs to be a good hard look at providing overnight shelter but those other issues have to be dealt with carefully,” he said.

Harper, meanwhile, had similar feelings about the valley’s homeless population, which stands at roughly 8 percent.

“This should be a proactive and not a reactive response. Right now they should be planning for the summer about how we are going to help people. Winter planning should have been done a long time ago. I told Karen Jackson that this is something the town board and commissioners should have addressed long ago,” he said.

Jackson said that she will be organizing a group of area agencies in early 2014 to make some meaningful effort to find a permanent homeless facility in Pahrump.

“Susan Holecheck and I are going to get all of the organizations together after the holidays and have a meeting to see what we can iron out. We are humans and it’s the humane thing to do. Just because someone is down and out doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have somewhere warm to go during the coldest time of the year,”

In a related item, Jackson was forced to scrap plans for the community Christmas Tree decorating last Saturday due to the blustery and cold conditions.

The event will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the south parking lot of Saddle West.

The community is invited.

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