NORTH LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Dozens of people who lived in donated huts at a homeless encampment next to I-15 were met with bulldozers and police early Monday morning, the I-Team has learned.
The Nevada Department of Transportation owns the plot of land off Lake Mead near Losee. While the land is in North Las Vegas, part of it is also monitored by the City of Las Vegas.
Kady Johnson, who lived in the camp, said she woke up Monday to police telling her to leave.
“Wake up! This is the North Las Vegas Police Department,” Johnson said she heard officers yell around 6 a.m. “You need to pack up your stuff. You need to get up.”
What made the encampment unique was its 26 donated insulated huts from the group New Leaf Building Community. While Johnson slept in a tent and not a hut, she used the building as storage.
“I lost a lot of my clothes, my stuff, the food we had gathered up,” she shared.
Each Conestoga-style structure costs about $600, Robert Majors, who volunteers with New Leaf, said.
“It’s cold out right now, and that’s what I feel for,” Majors said, as temperatures across the valley drop.
City officials in both North Las Vegas and Las Vegas said the camp was becoming a public health concern. They cited an abundance of trash and human waste seeping into the Las Vegas Wash as two reasons why the huts and tents needed to be cleared.
There were also signs posted indicating the property was private, officials said. They added additional notices, giving a warning of an impending clearing, were posted last week.
“We were just trying to live and not trying to be bugged,” Johnson said. “What was the harm in that? It was our home. We made it ours.”
Las Vegas passed an ordinance earlier this year effectively banning sleeping outside in public areas. Officials said the law’s intent is not to criminalize homelessness, but rather help those experiencing homelessness connect with services. The encampment violated Las Vegas’ ordinance because it is in a public right-of-way.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance published amid the COVID-19 pandemic suggests letting homeless encampments stay put. It reads in part, “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
“It’s very wrong to just tear down what little type of home people can quarantine themselves in or take care of themselves in,” Majors said.
Members of Las Vegas’ MORE Team were on site Monday to help those affected find a place to stay, a spokesman for the city said. But out of 21 people the group spoke with, only three accepted services.
Since May, North Las Vegas police have responded to two incidents involving battery with a deadly weapon at the camp, a spokeswoman said. Police also responded to a fire in one of the structures that was ruled possible arson. In September, a person experiencing homelessness died when a train hit and killed them near the camp.
Majors said while the huts he helped build are gone, he hopes to move forward and find a permanent place for a new camp to be built.
All that is left at the site 24 hours later are bulldozers and new fencing.
“We weren’t bothering anybody,” Johnson said. “We were trying to just live and survive.”
Johnson said while the community offers services for the homeless population, she does not feel safe in shelters.
According to the latest figures available Tuesday, more than 10,000 people are experiencing homelessness across the valley. Nearly two-thirds of them sleep outside.