Shelters Full, Homeless Face Freezing Nights - 8 News NOW

Shelters Full, Homeless Face Freezing Nights

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Sonja Nissen and her son walk into the Shade Tree shelter after being given a bed for the night. Sonja Nissen and her son walk into the Shade Tree shelter after being given a bed for the night.
Sonja Nissen struggled to find a warm place to spend the night with her son. Sonja Nissen struggled to find a warm place to spend the night with her son.
Shade Tree Executive Director Marlene Richter said the winter shelter filled within five minutes Tuesday night. Shade Tree Executive Director Marlene Richter said the winter shelter filled within five minutes Tuesday night.

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Sonja Nissen and her 9-year-old son, Jordan, arrived 25 minutes too late.

Hoping for a warm place to spend the night, the homeless mother was turned away from the Shade Tree winter shelter Tuesday night because all 25 cots had already been claimed.

For four hours, Nissen struggled to find a warm place to spend the night. Temperatures flirted with freezing, dropping to a windy 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the Salvation Army, where she was sent after failing to secure a place at Shade Tree, Nissen was told its shelter also was full. She then tried the church across the street.

Closed.

Though homeless on-and-off for two years, Nissen said it was the first time she was denied shelter. But as cold as it was Tuesday night, she did not want that to be her and Jordan's first time sleeping on the streets. Her suitcase containing her belongings was stolen last week at the Salvation Army, she said, and the clothes she and her son wore was all that would keep them warm that night.

Nissen said she was outraged at being denied shelter.

"We really don't have a place to stay," she said. "I'm looking for a job. I'm looking to get my life back together. I think it's absurd. I'm really angered by the situation, that they would do this to children without even a thought or an inkling of doing that to families, especially with small children."

The shelter is at capacity, Shade Tree executive director Marlene Richter said.The shelter housed 364 women and children that night.

Richter said that within five minutes of opening the winter shelter at 6 p.m., all 25 cots were claimed for the night.

The rest of the shelter, which includes transitional and emergency housing, also was full, she said.

"It's a very challenging situation to have women and children come and for us to not always be able to meet their needs," Richter said, adding that Nissen was referred to another shelter after being turned away. "But they're having the same situation where they were full as well."

To accommodate Nissen, Richter's staff asked families in other parts of the Shade Tree shelter to share their space.

"Imagine going to sleep and being awakened by staff (who) say, ‘Would you please let somebody else sleep right next to you that you've never met before,'" Richter said. "That's essentially what we did in order to bring her in off the street."

Temperatures are expected to drop to the mid and upper 20s in parts of the Las Vegas valley Wednesday night. Richter said after opening the shelter a month ago, it is already full and new faces are entering daily.

"Winter shelter has been solved by (Clark) County in the past, but because of the growing number of homeless and newly homeless, the need is greater now than ever before," she said. "How do we meet those needs, especially when the number is moving, literally every day? New people are getting laid off, new people are becoming homeless, new people are coming here and some job was promised that doesn't work out."

Nissen and Jordan finally secured a spot after 10 p.m. Where they will spend the nights ahead they do not yet know.

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