Politics & Media
Apr 07, 2008, 01:05PM

Homeless in Vegas

A common urban problem takes on a special twist when you see panhandlers plugging quarters into slot machines. From The Rebel Yell.

If you've ever been to the Starbucks on Paradise Road, chances are you've run into a few homeless people begging for money. Of course there are always heartfelt stories about the bad luck they've had and how just a few cents would really make a difference. But how much of a positive difference would it really make?

From my experiences – very little.

Since I work in the area of the 24-hour Starbucks on Paradise Road, I stop in nearly everyday for some coffee on my way to work, and every day I bear witness to the same site - homeless people either kindly asking people for money or rudely harassing Starbucks patrons.

People like myself often feel bad for the homeless. Perhaps they've had some horrible luck in life. Maybe they have mental disorders and just can't afford medication which forces them to lose everything. Or perhaps they are just very hungry.

That is not always the case. I've spoken to many homeless people at Starbucks and asked them about their situations. Some were honest and said they were drug addicts. Others insisted on maintaining delusional stories that changed day to day. But if they were truly hungry, I don't think many people would have a problem helping others get food.

I remember watching a young homeless man, perfectly capable of working, ask a young lady eating a sandwich if he could have money to buy food. But rather than give him money, the young woman gave him half of her sandwich. As he walked away, he threw the sandwich in the trash. She then erupted and threatened the man while he just carelessly walked away.

My own experience with the vegetarian homeless man, Chris, was enlightening. Yes, I knew a 22-year-old homeless man from California who was an actual vegetarian, and anytime people would offer him food, he would throw away the meat and eat the vegetables. I always found this to be ironic. He would not work, and was addicted to crack, but had principles.

In a conversation, he told me he made around $150 a day begging for money. That's more than what plenty of hard-working Americans make.

This is not unheard of. Of the dozens of homeless people I've spoken to, a few say they make nothing, but a few tell me they average more than $100 a day.

I know that every homeless person's reason for being homeless is different, and each situation is unique. But as someone who cares about the well-being of our society, it was disheartening to walk into Terrible's Casino and see many of the homeless people who beg for money at Starbucks gambling at the penny and nickel slots.

This creates a very difficult situation for the local community as well as the city government, but also for local business owners and patrons as well. What is the city to do about the homeless situation?

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman signed a controversial law that penalized anyone feeding the homeless in Las Vegas city parks with hefty fines or possible jail time. The reasoning was if the homeless were not fed at these parks, regardless of how venerable it is to do so, they would be forced into seeking rehabilitation at a shelter which could provide food, as well as a second chance.

However, critics of the act call it inhumane. As a result, Las Vegas has consistently been in the top five "meanest city to homeless people" list since 2003, prompting many to question Goodman's policy.

But criticisms and name calling do not solve problems. Firstly, we all have to recognize that we have a very serious homeless problem here in Las Vegas. Estimates have the number of homeless people in Las Vegas at around 13,000. Secondly, many homeless people need help, however, many of them do not want help. As a coworker and I stood outside the Starbucks after work a few nights ago, the same young, rude homeless man asked us for money. My coworker told the man that he was young and able, so why not try to work and start over again? The homeless man replied, "I like living like this."

My coworker went off in a tirade, yelling at the young man, "so I go to work and bust my butt every night so I could just give you my money?" To which the young homeless man just walked away without comment.

Of course, this is not always the case, but many people feel this way. Why should we work hard everyday just to take care of those who don't? Unfortunately, the argument is not so cut and dry. But I think we can all agree that something needs to be done to get these people some help, but get business owners some help, too.

There is nothing worse for a business owner than looking outside and seeing homeless people going from car to car harassing people for money. This is bad for business, and it is bad for our society as well.

The answer is not easy, but for such a visible problem, the local government and community need to do whatever they can to help homeless people get cleaned up.

Although giving money to the homeless may sometimes seem like the right thing to do, it isn't. Sadly, they're just getting money to support a drug addiction or a gambling habit. That's not really a solution


Register or Login to leave a comment