NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — People in Las Vegas are accustomed to people holding signs and asking for food or money at red lights, gas stations and outside of eating establishments, but what people may not know is the negative consequences donating directly to those people may have on the homeless person and the city.
Many people give thinking they are helping the person to get back on their feet or saving them from starving. However, these donations are only a temporary fix and can actually help to keep people in the cycle of homelessness.
A large number of donations to the homeless community come from people at Nellis AFB, said Aden Ocampogomez, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department police officer.
“I think it’s just the way the Air Force is,” he said. “When an Airman sees someone in need, they do what they can to help.”
According to the officer, donating to the homeless is not a bad thing. What does turn out to be a problem is when the donations aren’t funneled through a charitable organization because direct donation doesn’t help to get them off the streets.
A problem encountered by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department is homeless people staying in one area for an extended amount of time urinating and defecating in the street, which leaves the area unsanitary and harboring bacteria and diseases.
“Discarded food [also] leaves unsanitary conditions that attract pigeons and other vermin,” Ocampogomez said. “Cleaning these unsanitary conditions can cost the tax payers thousands of dollars.”
The Downtown Area Command and Community Oriented Policing Squad stands by ensuring the safety of the City of Las Vegas’ Rapid Response team as team members clean the debris left on sidewalks and human waste once a week in an attempt to control potential health risks.
Besides the health risks, people begging on street corners can hinder the flow of traffic and pose a risk to pedestrians.
“The discarded donated clothing and bedding left in large boxes or just piled onto the sidewalk and street causes the sidewalks to be blocked,” the officer said. “This causes pedestrians to step into the roadway creating a hazard to pedestrians and motorists that frequent the area.”
Money given to many of the people begging on the streets does not go to what the givers intended it for either. It’s common for people to use the money to feed their addictions rather than to purchase food.
“The money given to persons on the streets, freeway exits and intersections, often goes to buying drugs or alcohol,” Ocampogomez said.
According to Arthur Nunez, a homeless man and prior light infantryman with the U.S. Army, most of the money handed out directly to the homeless goes to the wrong people.
“What I see a lot are people that don’t need donations begging for money and wasting it on drugs, and people that can use the help but [are] not begging receive nothing,” Nunez said.
According to Terry Smith, who is one of the homeless who struggles with alcohol addiction, a lot of the people on the street struggle with drug and alcohol problems. Smith recently chose to voluntarily enter a detox program in hopes of kicking his alcohol addiction.
“I want to quit drinking,” Smith said. “With the help from [different] programs that’s what I hope to do.”
Donating directly to the homeless can also leave the unsuspecting donator with a ticket in the future.
“There is a law in the works that will make it illegal to donate directly to [the] homeless within 1,000 feet of a shelter,” Ocampogomez said.
The Las Vegas Metro Police Department isn’t trying to discourage people from donating to the homeless, but the department wants people to do it in a way that will not be harmful to homeless person or the community.