The casinos are deserted and thousands of hotel rooms are empty. But when Las Vegas, gripped by the coronavirus, needed space for a temporary homeless shelter, officials chose a location that does not have walls, or even a roof: an outdoor parking lot.
The City of Las Vegas and Clark County on Saturday opened the shelter, on the upper floor of a convention center parking lot, after the temporary closure of a 500-person homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities after a homeless man there tested positive for the coronavirus.
Medical students from Touro University, wearing protective gear, have been tasked with screening each homeless person for coronavirus symptoms before they enter the parking area, which has been partly covered with blue mats and closed off by metal barriers. The “shelter” will remain open until Friday, when the Catholic Charities shelter is expected to reopen, according to a joint statement by the city and county.
More than 6,500 Las Vegas residents lack permanent housing and nearly 70 percent of the city’s homeless population sleeps outside, according to the Las Vegas government. With a nearby homeless shelter overflowing, officials decided to expand into the parking lot, at the Cashman Center convention complex about seven miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
More than 50 volunteers laid out 24,000 square feet of carpet for the homeless to use as sleeping mats, which have been spaced six feet apart to abide by social distancing protocols, said David Riggleman, a spokesman for the City of Las Vegas. The shelter also has portable toilets and washing stations.
“It was a logistical heavy lift,” said Mr. Riggleman, describing the effort, which was accomplished with essentially a day’s notice. “That was a lot to pull together in a very short amount of time.”
Officials chose to use the parking lot instead of the buildings at the convention complex to reserve the space indoors for possible hospital overflow, he said.
Still, the city has struggled to provide the temporary services while also addressing concerns about sanitation and the virus. Initially, officials had hoped to have the carpeting cleaned each day, but later found that the service provider was unable to adequately disinfect the material, Mr. Riggleman said, and so many are sleeping on concrete.
Las Vegas officials said they are concerned about the long-term financial impacts of the coronavirus shutdowns. Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada issued a 90-day moratorium on Sunday on all evictions and foreclosures in the state in an effort to stave off some of the most severe economic consequences.
But Mr. Riggleman said it was not clear whether that will be enough to prevent a rise in the city’s homeless population.
“We know we’re in for a rough road,” Mr. Riggleman said.