Nevada Newsmakers

News - January 23, 2023 - by Ray Hagar

Former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley -- the second candidate so far to announced a run for mayor of Las Vegas for 2024 -- said last week on Nevada Newsmakers that homelessness is the top concern for the state's largest city.

"Homelessness is the No. 1 issue," she told host Sam Shad.

"The problem is growing," said Berkley, Nevada's 1st U.S. House District representative from 1999 to 2013. "It is an issue. It is heartbreaking to see."

Two years ago, Las Vegas City Councilman Cedric Crear announced he would run for mayor in 2024.

Las Vegas' homeless problem ranks 14th nationally in the overall number of homeless people in major cities, according to study published by Psy D Programs in November of 2022.

Another study from the City Mayors Society in 2020, ranked Las Vegas No. 7 and Reno No. 11 nationally in the number of homeless people per 100,000 residents.

The 2022 Point-in-Time Count and Survey, conducted almost a year ago, showed the largest increase in homelessness in Southern Nevada since 2019. An estimated 13,972 people were expected to experience homelessness in Southern Nevada in 2022 compared to 13,076 in 2021 and 2020, according to the Point-in-Time results reported by the Nevada Current.

Berkley sees homelessness as a hindrance for businesses and as a humanitarian crisis.

"For the business people, it is a serious issue because it is impeding their businesses," Berkley said. "Nobody wants to walk past people who are homeless and living on the sidewalks in order to transact business in any store.

"So that is an economic issue for the business community," she added. "But it's also a very serious human issue for those people that are living on the streets. And it is not only single men or single women. You are seeing families living on the street and they cannot afford appropriate housing."

Berkley does not believe in some already-suggested solutions.

"I think the city is taking some steps," she said. "I don't believe in warehousing the homeless, I don't believe in busing them to locations outside the city limits. That is cruel and really doesn't solve the problem."

Berkley would like to partner with other cities to come up with a unique solution to Las Vegas' homeless problem.

"There are other cities around the county that are working on this issue," Berkley said. "We should be fully engaged with them and take the best solutions they have come up with, come up with some of our own and figure out what we are going to do."

She noted that homelessness will never be fully erased because some people want to live outside of society.

"We will never eliminate the homeless problem but certainly, working on affordable housing and services that are  in the best interest of the homeless (helps) getting them off the streets.

"I can't imagine anybody being born and as they grow up, thinking 'Oh, I want to live on the streets and be homeless all my life," Berkley said. "That is not the option of any American."

Berkley, a champion for veterans affairs while in Congress, is especially is disheartened by the number of U.S. Armed Services veterans who have fallen into homelessness.

Statistics for Southern Nevada indicate 10 percent of the homeless population have served in the military, according to a report by KLAS-8 News Now.

"A large percentage of our homeless population have mental-health issues and are veterans," Berkley said. "Veterans are a tremendous passion of mine. I've worked very hard, closely with them when I was in Congress but we have not done right by our veterans who are out and serving this country overseas.

"They come back and services are very limited for them," she said of veterans. "We need to do a better job. If we send young men and young women to war, at various locations across the globe, when they come back, we had better treat them right and we don't often do that.

"A good many of our homeless have served this nation with distinction and they come home, and they're living on the streets," she said. "This country should accept that as just fact. We need to do something about it."

THE BADLANDS -- Homelessness is not the only problem that will be facing Las Vegas' next mayor.

Berkley is concerned about the ongoing legal dispute between the city and developers of the defunct Badlands golf course.

Two rulings against the city, plus about $5.5 million in court and legal fees have increased the city's liability to more than $87 million in the case, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Berkley said she is very familiar with the case, adding, "I am very hopeful that an accommodation and compromise can be reached, because what is happening now is not sustainable and potentially devastating for the city of Las Vegas."

"So it would be my hope that in the next two years, and hopefully much sooner than that, that the city and the developer can sit down and figure out what we are going to do that is good for the city and good for the developer.

"And with every passing lawsuit and decision, it puts the city of Las Vegas in a bad light and could be very devastating economically for us who live in Las Vegas and the taxpayers here."

Berkley noted City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman has been very active in working to reach a settlement.

"This is her ward, so it would stand to reason that it's her -- I wouldn't call it responsibility -- but she has the most vested interest in some sort of accommodation that would work for the city and work for the developer," Berkley said. "So I am not surprised that Victoria is very actively involved in this -- and she should be."

Berkley hopes the city is currently engaged in the back-channel negotiations to find a solution but has no knowledge of any discussions.

"I would be misrepresenting if I said I knew, I don't," she said. "I would be hopeful that they are trying to get beyond this impasse, but I don't know."

Berkley is currently the senior vice president of the of the Touro University system and must finish her contract with the health-care network before beginning her campaign for mayor.

Prior to her current position, she served more than eight years as CEO and senior provost of Touro University's Western Division.

Berkley, a Democrat in Congress, left her political career in 2014 after losing the general election for U.S. Senator in Nevada to Dean Heller, a Republican.

"The reality is this: I still have about six months left on my service at Touro University and that is an obligation that I will see through, do the best I can for Touro and then hit the ground running on July 1st of 2023."

Berkley may be the first to declare for mayor but she says she won't be the last.

"There are going to be a number of candidates in this race," she said. "There are at least two sitting city council people that are running and we hear rumors of others who are interested in the job."

The next mayor will follow the legacy of Oscar and Carolyn Goodman. Carolyn will have been mayor for 13 years when her term ends with Oscar holding the office for 12 years before that.

"Quite candidly, the Goodmans helped pave the way and I am very grateful for their service," Berkley said.

"The next 10 years are going to be explosive for the city of Las Vegas, with the sports teams and the cultural activities, things that simply did not exist when I was a kid growing up here," she said.

"Las Vegas' best years are ahead of us," Berkley added.