The topic of homelessness is difficult and nuanced and not an issue confined to large cities. There are so many factors that contribute homelessness, as well as provide avenues to address it. Complicating matters further is the fact that everyone affected is a human being, with their own experiences, feelings and reactions to homelessness.
Recently, local business owners and city staff met via Zoom, in a call facilitated by Jill Rowland-Lagan, Chamber of Commerce CEO, to discuss the issue of homelessness in Boulder City.
A recounting of multiple incidents of damage, theft and vandalism by homeless persons at local businesses was presented to Michael Mays, Acting City Manager and Timothy Shea, Chief of Police. This included reports of people sleeping in stores and shops around town, panhandling complaints, and an especially damaging event at a local business amounting to over $1000 in repairs. Several participants on the call had noted similar experiences, which prompted the call with city officials.
Chief Shea reminded the group that “being homeless is not a crime” and that due to current COVID-19 restrictions, people charged with misdemeanor crimes were generally not being arrested and jailed. As a result of recent court rulings in the Ninth District Court (https://bcsocial.news/3binzjG), homeless individuals cannot be cited for activities like sleeping in a public park during the day because there is no homeless shelter reasonably nearby to direct these people. Chief Shea also noted that all city-owned park and open spaces had posted signs with operating hours. Anyone using these facilities outside of those hours is subject to citation.
Shea went on to advise business owners that a similar principle could be applied to privately owned establishments as well. Some businesses had submitted letters to the police department to advise them of their operating hours. Therefore, if police were to locate someone on the premises after closing, they could be forced to leave the area.
Shea continued by explaining how individuals could also be “trespassed” from private property. This process allows for employees of the business to have someone removed who was causing problems inside a business, such as sleeping or failing to wear a mask. Shea stated that police officers would ask the employee to sign a form prohibiting the trespassed person from returning for a period of time. To violate the trespass order could result in additional citations and penalties.
Mr. Mays advised business owners that the city was working with other local entities focused on finding solutions to the county’s homelessness problem. City officials said the homeless population has undergone a recent decrease from numbers seen over the summer. the estimated homeless population in Boulder City is 5. It was noted that accurate counts of homeless persons was extremely difficult to ascertain at any point in time. The count is achieved thru a variety of methods with multiple city departments assisting in the effort.
Local businesswomen, Mary Smith of Soda at the Nest, and Luana Fritz of A&W Restaurant, stated that while each had experienced problems with homeless persons on their properties, the city, particularly the police department, had been responsive to their requests for service. This sentiment seemed to be echoed by others on the call. Randy Hees, director at the Nevada State Railroad Museum also expressed his thanks to city staff from the public works department who assisted with some flood control facility design changes near their property that had become areas where homeless people tended to congregate.
Residents and business owners were reminded to call the police whenever a crime was observed, such as drug sales or public intoxication, so that officers could be dispatched to the location. It is not advisable to confront those who appear homeless because situations can turn aggressive, or even violent. Business owners and residents should call (702) 293-9224 for non-emergency situations.
In the end, solutions will come from working together with homeless individuals to create results that can be achievable and equitable to all involved. The issue doesn’t occur spontaneously, and neither will the answers.