Every night, in the United States, nearly 600,000 people live on the street. National Coalition for the Homeless (www.nationalhomeless.org) considers this a severe humanitarian crisis, as people experiencing homelessness often endure unimaginable hardships, facing hunger, exposure to harsh weather conditions, violence, and health risks. Treating the issue as an emergency is not only ethically right, but also strategically beneficial: By acting decisively and promptly, communities can make substantial progress toward ending homelessness and building a more just and compassionate society.
An encouraging project headed in the right direction has been taking shape in downtown Las Vegas and is contributing positively to a state grappling with homelessness challenges. National Low Income Housing Coalition (www.nlihc.org) has reported that Nevada faces the most severe affordable housing shortage in the nation. With a deficit of 84,000 units for its low-income and homeless populations, this state is notably affected by the lack of accessible housing options.
For ten years, filmmaker and real estate investor Valerio Zanoli (www.valeriozanoli.com) has served the underprivileged community of Southern Nevada through his project Helping Vegas (www.helping.vegas) and the unwavering assistance of the several non-profits he collaborates with. He has successfully provided housing for more than 700 families and, beginning in 2021, he undertook the bold venture of revitalizing and expanding two rooming houses that will soon offer safe and stable accommodation to up to 25 low-income individuals and families every night (www.roominghouses.info).
Christine Hess, Executive Director of Nevada Housing Coalition (www.nvhousingcoalition.org), expressed her support for the role of rooming houses to serve the most vulnerable:
“A rooming house is a dwelling with multiple bedrooms rented out individually, with shared bathrooms and kitchens. They are an important part of the affordable housing patchwork and often serve as the home before an individual must face homelessness, and they may also be the first step back to stability. The renovation and expansion of these two rooming houses is one example of an alternative solution that can impact multiple lives for years to come in Las Vegas.”
For many years, Zanoli has used the two rooming houses to help the underserved population of Las Vegas: All the guests were ex-homeless people who were part of programs at various charities, and most of them were senior citizens, veterans, and minorities. The residents could enjoy the privacy of their bedrooms while fostering a sense of community and being reintegrated into society. They had the chance to have a place to call “home” and, above all, to have what is necessary to change their life and get back on their feet.
After being vacated in 2021, the two buildings underwent major renovations, and now have new electrical wiring and panels, AC and heating units, plumbing and sewer systems, floors, windows, doors, bathrooms, kitchens, stairs, drywall, stucco, paint, etc.
The Salvation Army (www.salvationarmyusa.org) was one of the organizations that could rely on the two rooming houses for its clients:
“Before being vacated, the two rooming houses at 517 and 523 North 1st Street in Las Vegas, NV were often used as our last resort, as they housed people no one else wanted, no matter their past evictions and criminal history. It was laudable that people were moved in without any credit checks or applications fees, especially considering that some of our clients are particularly vulnerable and needy. The two rooming houses ensured that our veterans were not left behind. This one-of-a-king affordable housing project is an invaluable tool that will allow a great number of extremely low-income individuals and families to be rescued from homelessness.”
U.S. Vets (www.usvets.org) was another organization that used the two buildings to house dozens of veterans in need:
“The 2 rooming houses have been of paramount importance to our underserved community in Southern Nevada. U.S. Vets has been housing veterans in these 2 rooming houses since 2015, until they were recently vacated. The 2 buildings used to be home to 18 families at the time, and they will house up to 25 families per night after their planned expansion. It should be emphasized that the 2 rooming houses were our last – if not only – resort to house those veterans no other landlord wanted to help, because of previous evictions or criminal records.”
Zanoli and his team have been determined to complete the renovations as soon as possible and, thanks to their tenaciousness, they will soon re-open both buildings and make them available for Clark County Social Service (www.clarkcountynv.gov) to utilize them for those people who need them the most.
Tim Burch, former Director of the Social Service Department, recognized the importance of this undertaking:
“The recent surge in rents and the lack of options for low-income families are making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to survive. Clark County Social Service welcomes qualified partners who are willing to house our most needy members of society. CCSS is eager to move people into these 2 rooming houses as soon as renovations are completed.”
In addition, the project is supported by Michele Fuller-Hallauer, Manager of the Social Service Department; Teresa Etcheberry and Randy Reinoso, Deputy Directors of the Social Service Department; and Kevin Schiller, Manager of Clark County. The latter recently took part in Zanoli’s upcoming documentary HOME
LESS, which follows the stories of five people living on the street and features interviews with prominent housing advocates, including Donald Whitehead Jr., Executive Director of National Coalition for the Homeless. In the film, Schiller emphasizes the urgency of the situation and invites everyone to be part of the solution:
“Every one of us is impacted by financial loss or knows somebody that is struggling in our community. What we are really trying to do is address the needs of people at their level, so they have a level of decency: They wake up in their own bed, they have four walls, and they are able to call a home a “home.” There is still a long road ahead of us, and we need to walk it together.”
While most entrepreneurs measure performance in profit and return on investment, Zanoli took a different approach and has been running a successful business in the unique field of social entrepreneurship, which generates a positive “return to society.” He is committed to making a difference through the buildings he renovates and uses to provide housing to the underserved populations in Las Vegas, and through the movies he produces and directs to raise awareness and funds for important causes: living with Alzheimer’s disease, bullying, childhood illnesses, and homelessness.
Catrina Grigsby-Thedford, Executive Director of Nevada Homeless Alliance (www.nevadahomelessalliance.org) praised Valerio Zanoli and his mission:
“Valerio has helped an incredible number of veterans get back on their feet. He has always shown uncommon compassion and has never turned down a veteran in need. These veterans are people who bravely served our country, and it is extraordinary that Valerio offers them the chance and hope everyone should have. Having an ally like Valerio on our side is a precious resource and an inspiration. We share a deep desire to change the world around us and impact the future to end homelessness.”
Zanoli knows the importance of establishing connections as a key factor in a project of this magnitude. By bringing together service organization from the Las Vegas community, he has truly created a support system for the men and women he houses. He modestly brushes off the success of the renovations of the two rooming houses as “being lucky to have passionate supporters,” and he recognizes that it was made possible by the gracious support of:
Las Vegas Host Lions Club and Lions Clubs International (www.lionsclubs.org)
The Las Vegas Host Lions Club, of which Zanoli is an esteemed member, is part of Lions Clubs International. Moved to action by the motto “We Serve,” the Lions are the world’s largest service club organization with more than 1.4 million members in approximately 48,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas around the globe. At the beginning of every meeting, all Lions make a toast: “Not above you. Not below you. But with you.” The name Lions was chosen because of the symbolism of what a lion represents: courage, strength, activity, and fidelity. The Las Vegas Host Lions Club has at its core a mission statement that is compelling and important: to empower volunteers to serve their communities and meet humanitarian needs.
The Home Depot Foundation (www.homedepotfoundation.org)
The Home Depot Foundation donated some building material. Furthermore, Team Depot will soon work to transform the housing facilities through interior and exterior painting, hardware installation, and kitchen and bathroom upgrades. Giving back to veterans is personal to The Home Depot as more than 35,000 of the company’s associates are veterans or military spouses. Since 2011, The Home Depot Foundation has invested more than $475 million in veteran causes and improved more than 55,000 veteran homes and facilities, ensuring more of our nation’s heroes have a safe, comfortable place to call home that fits their individual needs.
Renewal by Andersen (www.renewalbyandersen.com)
Renewal by Andersen donated and installed new windows. The company is the start-to-finish window replacement division of Andersen Corporation, winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2019 ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence Award. Renewal by Andersen offers a replacement process that includes an in-home consultation, custom manufacturing, and installation through one of the largest nationwide networks of window replacement specialists.
Harvison House (www.harvisonhouse.org)
Harvison House donated furniture for the project. This non-profit organization serves military veterans and families by providing home furnishings and medical equipment they would be unable to acquire otherwise. Harvison House reaches into the community for gently used or repairable furniture and equipment, cleans and repairs them, and delivers them to veterans’ homes.
The renovation of these rooming houses is a great example of how businesses no longer need to be focused exclusively on making money. This project should be used as inspiration for others to include social responsibility in what defines them as successful and allow themselves to be guided by how their operations benefit solutions to social, cultural, and environmental issues.
National Coalition for the Homeless believes that, as a society, we have a collective responsibility to care for our most vulnerable members and ensure they have access to stable housing and the support they need to thrive. Every individual has the right to adequate housing and a standard of living that ensures their health and well-being.
You can find additional resources and help us eradicate homelessness by visiting the website www.nationalhomeless.org
Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.