Las Vegas officials blame the pandemic, inflation and an affordable housing shortage for the region’s growing number of homeless people, who are often viewed as society’s castoffs and include many struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.
Some have literally been forced underground, turning aqueducts and tunnels built for flood control beneath the Las Vegas Strip into shelter for themselves. But homeless people have been under attack for decades. Staged fights between homeless men were videotaped and sold under the name “Bumfights” in the early 2000s, and a homeless man was burned alive in Los Angeles in 2008.
“I’m mad and I’m sad,” said Shawn Fierro, 30, a homeless man who knew all five shooting victims and lives in a tent near Route 95, about 10 miles from the lights and sounds of the Strip.
Fierro said he fears he could be the next victim.
“I’m worried it may happen again,” he said. “Who’s to say it can’t happen to me?”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has released security video of the shooter fleeing the scene of the shooting, which came after three homeless people were shot in Los Angeles in late November. Las Vegas police have said the shootings are unrelated.
The Clark County coroner’s office identified the man killed as Timothy Bratton, 57, who died of a gunshot wound to the chest. The police department has not released the names of the wounded.
Several people who live in the encampment where the shooting occurred said they have since been harassed and threatened by local homeowners who don’t want them in their neighborhood.
“We try to stay hidden and out of public view, but nobody wants us in the community,” said Ledesma, who sleeps on a concrete curb under a large, blue tarp covering her used futon, a blanket, clothes and the unnamed guinea pig she found outside a storefront one night.
“There’s rats and cockroaches, so you gotta have a bed,” she said of her futon.
Frank Lucero, 46, who became homeless eight years ago after going through a divorce and losing his job, said he has become accustomed to living in harm’s way.
“I’m not afraid,” he said.
Las Vegas police declined to comment on what they are doing to protect the city’s homeless population and referred NBC News to the website of its Homeless Outreach Team, which aims to “lower the number of unhoused people requiring law enforcement and medical responses.”
City officials passed an encampment ordinance in 2019 making it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in public rights of way, on sidewalks or streets, downtown and in residential neighborhoods when beds are available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or another nonprofit service provider.
The 500-bed resource center north of downtown in the “Corridor of Hope,” home to the city’s largest population of unhoused people, provides shelter and access to medical care, housing and employment services.
They are not required to be sober and can stay for as long as they need, city officials said.
“The goal is to get people healthy, housed and hired,” said city spokesman Jace Radke.