The holiday season is not a joyous one for our homeless.
The holidays are filled with joyous moments of friends and families gathering together to celebrate the season. Images of those joyous holiday moments are reinforced wherever we turn. Every store will be playing Christmas music in the background and will have displays of colorful holiday decorations.
Your car’s radio will have channels dedicated to playing holiday-themed music to appeal to every genre. On television, several cable channels will play holiday-themed movies from before Thanksgiving through New Year’s. We will adorn our houses inside and out with festive holiday decorations and lights. For most of us, we take this for granted during the holiday season but for Nevadans that are homeless, they are painful reminders of their struggle to live a normal life.
Nevada, especially Southern Nevada, has some of the worst homeless rates in the nation. According to the Nevada Homeless Alliance, Nevada has the third highest rate of total unsheltered homeless individuals in the nation.
We have the first highest rate of unsheltered youth, the third highest rate of unaccompanied homeless youth, and we are number one for the greatest shortage of affordable housing in the nation. The Alliance estimates that on any given night in Southern Nevada there are over 6,000 homeless individuals and that over 16,000 Southern Nevadans will experience homelessness during the year.
Being homeless carries a stigma with it. We associate homelessness with mental health and addiction issues and while that is certainly a factor for many homeless, it is not the case for all homeless individuals.
Take the real-life example of Daniel Tiberio. Daniel owned his own business in Maine, but when the last recession hit, customers quit coming and he was forced to close his business. A friend gave him a tip on a job in Las Vegas working for a heavy equipment company and he made the move across the country.
His new job paid a good wage, he was able to afford a rental house and a car. A single dad, his youngest daughter had been living with her grandparents while he got situated in Las Vegas. He was able to send her a plane ticket and moved her home with him.
He had survived losing his business and had bounced back by starting over in Nevada. Then tragedy struck, he was injured on the job. He had to have major surgery to one of his knees. The surgery was covered under his employer’s workmen’s compensation insurance plan but while recovering from his injury the amount he was being paid for wages was substantially less than he had been making when he was working.
Not enough money to pay his bills would become a major issue. He was unable to return to his previous good-paying construction job because of work restrictions due to his surgery. Because of his restrictions, he went through retraining in a new career field to do web design.
He has been unable to find a good paying job even though he has retrained with new job skills. He has no work experience in his new career field and potential employers want to pay him only a minimum wage until he gets experience.
He has had additional health complications and needs further surgery for him to be on his feet for any length of time, further compounding his difficulty in finding a good paying job. When he lost his rental home, he had to send his daughter back to Maine. Daniel is showing signs of depression and that makes it even harder for him to find solutions to get him through this.
During the time period while he was recovering from his surgery his driver’s license from Maine expired. When he was able to find transportation to the Nevada DMV he was told that he would need his birth certificate, but Daniel was adopted and he doesn’t have a copy of his birth certificate.
He has tried for several months contacting various agencies to get either a copy of his birth certificate or his adoption papers, so he could get a Nevada driver’s license but he has had no success so far. He also doesn’t have a mailing address for the papers to be sent to when he is able to find a copy of the documents he needs.
Daniel is caught in a circle of unemployment, high rents, and health issues without solutions. He needs temporary housing, health coverage, and some stability while he transitions to a job that pays enough so he can afford to rent. Unfortunately, agencies in Southern Nevada are overwhelmed with cases like Daniel’s and he hasn’t been able to find much help to get him through this.
A bit stubborn, proud, and embarrassed by his circumstances, he often elects to sleep in his car. He feels that he is burdening people by being homeless and doesn’t want to impose on them. Daniel is just trying to survive and the holiday season for him is a painful reminder that he is not where he wants to be.
Next: more on being homeless in Nevada.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org