George Vonberndt, 52, stakes his claim at an old vacant storefront in a local shopping plaza. It’s an area littered with empty applesauce and peanut butter jars, a beat up mattress, a collection of dirty blankets and shopping carts.
Vonberndt came to Pahrump more than seven years ago, after losing his temporary job in Jerome, Idaho back in 2014.
“When I lost my job I found it difficult to gain decent employment, so my mom drove us both out to Pahrump in hopes of finding gainful employment out here,” said Vonberndt, speaking from his battered mattress.
Vonberndt’s mom lives in an old RV in Pahrump, but he said he prefers to sleep outside at night and look for donations during the day on the streets of Pahrump making whatever change he can to survive.
He hasn’t been able to find a job lately, but said he gets by with food stamps and the money he makes from panhandling.
“Sometimes it’s just blankets I get, other times I can make up to 35 bucks from generous people. And there are some days I am on a corner for eight hours straight and don’t get anything,” he said.
His choice to move to Pahrump was an obvious one. The mild winters and the small size to comparable cities, such as Las Vegas or San Diego, make it an ideal place for Vonberndt.
It isn’t always safe, however. Once Vonberndt said he was struck by a vehicle and left to fend for himself on the side of the road. And since the homeless population here continues to grow, Vonberndt said he has to work extra hard to retain his preferred panhandling spot.
In 2021, Nevada Outreach Training Organization, which provides services and resources to the local homeless population, counted 54 unhoused individuals and 116 inhabited structures without power or water. But the count is likely higher because pandemic restrictions and COVID-19 distancing guidelines complicated the 2021 homeless count.
Additionally, the factors contributing to homlessness are complex and getting an accurate count of the problem can be difficult because of the transient lives of those who don’t have stable housing.
Pahrump does not have a shelter or a soup kitchen. Although there are talks to bring both to town, funding and state approval has hit a snag. Vonberndt said he would like to see both, but he isn’t holding his breath.
“I’ve gotten by this long without them, and I’ll continue to get by just fine,” he said.
Resources for homeless people
No to Abuse, a social service organization located at 621 S. Blagg Road acts as an outreach program for Pahrump’s homeless population.
“We basically comb the streets, and try to reach as many homeless as we see to inform them of our services,” said Jessica Barlow, manager of the Family Resource Center.
The organization provides food, rides and an address where homeless people can receive mail. Other services include twice-weekly shower vouchers, weekly laundry vouchers, access to a clothing closet and help with securing documentation like a Social Security card, driver’s license, and state ID.
Its staff members conduct mental health assessments for homeless people to help get them enrolled in state services. They can also help people secure low-income housing once they find a job.
A program centered around creating a shelter-style facility, specifically to help homeless veterans is currently being discussed, according to Barlow. However, there is no time table on when the project could launch — if it launches at all.
“We try to empower the homeless long term to get back into the workforce. We’re not a Band-Aid operation, we’re more a long-term solution for long-term sustainability,” Barlow said.
On Friday, March 18 the organization will host a Homeless Wrap Around event, services that are offered quarterly to provide hygiene products, pizza and breadsticks, haircuts, vaccinations and other miscellaneous comfort items and toiletries to those in need. Health Link is provided to assist in helping attain insurance needs for the homeless, as well.
As much support as Barlow and her team provide, she said there’s still more that can be done to help the homeless.
“As for resources here, it would be amazing to see a public shower/cooling station designed specifically for the homeless, or a shelter even for extreme weather conditions. We lack greatly in the shelter department. A huge chunk of our homeless are veterans, and that is a tragic thing.”
NyE Communities Coalition is another resource that can be utilized here locally at no cost. Services include resume writing, dressing for success, customer service and basic computer workshops, tutoring and educational support, quarterly career fairs, as well as variety of drug/suicide prevention courses. More information can be found online here.