"We needed a solution to this problem quickly," a local official said of the COVID-19 outbreak

By Benjamin VanHoose
April 01, 2020 11:11 AM
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The City of Las Vegas scrambled to find space for its homeless community displaced by shelter closures caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), officials said.

When a homeless man tested positive for the contagious respiratory virus last week, a local shelter operated by Catholic Charities temporarily shut down. In response to the closure, the city and Clark County officials worked to provide space for the nearly 500 people in need of overnight shelter, keeping in mind the parameters for social distancing.

Operating nightly through Friday, the makeshift sleeping site created by crews is at the upper parking lot of the Cashman Center. To keep six feet between each person, separated boxes were painted on the concrete to designate zones for each individual.

Officials expect the Catholic Charities shelter to reopen sometime this week, according to a press release.

“I think our entire country has seen the fact that we can’t manage this situation that we are in,” a spokesperson for the City of Las Vegas told CNN. “It’s not just the homeless. This has overwhelmed our resources everywhere and I think everybody is doing the best they can.”

People sleep in social-distancing boxes at a temporary homeless shelter set up in a parking lot at Cashman Center on March 30
Ethan Miller/Getty
Ethan Miller/Getty
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According to CNN, volunteers first laid out donated carpets on the parking lot grounds to accommodate sleepers, but disinfecting concerns caused them to scrap that option. On the first night, 66 people showed up, with a total of 117 on Sunday.

Officials chose not to use the inside of the convention center, instead reserving the building for hospital overflow space, should the community need it during the pandemic.

“We needed a solution to this problem quickly,” Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said in a press release, “and I want to thank everyone involved for their hard work so that our homeless population has a place to sleep tonight.”

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Over 6,500 people in Las Vegas don’t have access to permanent housing, The New York Times reported, and some 70 percent of the homeless community sleeps outdoors.

According to data compiled by The New York Times, there have been 1,113 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nevada and 26 deaths, as of Wednesday morning. Nationwide, the U.S. has had 188,247 cases and 3,921 deaths, the Times reported.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.