A combination of high unemployment and home foreclosure rates along with substance abuse have resulted in the Las Vegas metro area having the nation’s fourth highest rate of homelessness. Nevada is home to more than 7,800 homeless and 80% of them reside in
Las Vegas.

Officers Mel Frailey and John Purcell of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department left patrol to pursue their passion of helping those in need. In 2016, the officers began the MORE program, Multi-Agency-Outreach-Resource-Engagement. MORE collaborates with local organizations like the Salvation Army, U.S. Vets and HELP to match services to those in need. The pair spends their time offering available resources such as a ride to the DMV for an ID, a bus ticket for those who have family or friends outside of Las Vegas ready to take them in and connections to employers and shelters. These organizations that are part of the solution have the ability to offer those in need immediate housing, shelter relief, connections with jobs and access to substance abuse programs. 

Since MORE’s inception, the team has made approximately 4,000 contacts and transitioned 150 out of homelessness. The biggest challenge the officers face is when homeless turn down services. If they want to accept services, it is all up to the individual. MORE officers urge the community to call the homeless outreach team, (702) 229-MORE, and not the police. Purcell, Frailey and the rest of the outreach team can help with connecting an individual to a service provider and even assist with safe transportation.

While we continue to combat the issue of homelessness, local businesses suffer from those who refuse assisted services. Homeless encampments and dirty needles left in restaurant bathrooms present unique workplace safety risks that are difficult to identify and predict. These dangers need to be managed as much as possible, according to Jesse Perez, a safety expert.

Jesse Perez, Regional Security Manager of McDonald’s Corporation, discussed these concerns at a Safety and Security training held on June 15. Owners and operators have a responsibility to their customers, employees and themselves to create and maintain a safe environment. 

One local McDonald’s employee recently feared for her life as a vagrant threatened her with a knife. Others have been physically and verbally assaulted, resulting in labor shortage and decreased profits.

Due to the unpredictable nature of these situations, Mr. Perez believes mitigating these risks starts with developing internal policies, training employees and continuing to prepare for different scenarios. The plans and procedures should specify exactly what employees should do when dealing with certain situations or hazardous materials. 

Vagrants seek environments with sources of money, often close to where they live. They tend to be unpredictable and may pose a health and safety risk. Crimes such as theft, vandalism and destruction of property may increase due to vagrant activities. 

As the officers behind MORE mentioned, law enforcement does not view homelessness as a crime and will not utilize jail as a method of vagrant removal, unless the law has been broken. Restaurant operators together with law enforcement can work to successfully resolve non-threatening situations by contacting 311, the number used for a nonemergency where there is no physical threat, no verbal threat, passive loitering, passive noncompliance and no signs of endangerment. 

If an attempt to remove a vagrant results in a potentially dangerous or threatening situation Officers Frailey and Purcell urge operators to contact 911. An emergency situation may arise when the individual has become physically aggressive, a safety risk has occurred, the individual is threatening people, the individual is verbally aggressive or there is a medical issue present. 

In communicating with a vagrant, consider verbal de-escalation. This tactic is used in an attempt to prevent a person from causing harm to themselves or others. To verbally de-escalate another person, you must communicate clearly. Both you and the other person must listen to each other. Disarming the individual with your words, depending upon the individual, can result in voluntary compliance, voluntary cooperation and voluntary collaboration. 

Verbal De-escalation Tactics: 

• Listening

• Distracting the other person

• Re-focusing the other person on something positive

• Changing the subject

• Using humor (sparingly) to lighten the mood (be very careful with this!)

• Motivating the other person 

• Empathizing with the other person

• Giving choices

• Setting limits

If verbal de-escalation does not solve the problem, the individual may begin to escalate the situation. Signs of this include unintelligible speech, flailing body gestures, yelling/loud arguing, being unreasonable and not following instructions. 

Always remember communication is key: 80%-90% of communication is non-verbal. It is important to identify exactly what we are communicating with others non-verbally. You may be trying to de-escalate the situation by talking to the individual, but your body language may be showing a willingness to get physical. It is also important that we recognize and understand the non-verbal cues from another person who has the potential of escalating.

Facial expression and body language are 56% of daily communication. When people are angry, they sometimes do not “listen” to the words that are being said. Remember the difference between “hearing” and “listening.” People do “see” and react to what you are “saying” with your body language. 

Be careful with the message you are sending:

• Finger pointing may seem accusing or threatening.

• Shoulder shrugging may seem uncaring or unknowing.

• Rigid walking may seem unyielding or challenging.

• Jaw set with clenched teeth shows you are not open-minded or listening to their side of the story.

• A natural smile is good. A fake smile can aggravate the situation.

• Use slow and deliberate movements—quick actions may surprise or scare the other person.

As business owners and members of the community, we should remember that vagrants may or may not have chosen their lifestyle and could suffer from narcotics or alcohol abuse and may be mentally incapacitated. As we progress it is important to open the lines of communication within our organizations and align with the MORE team and our local law enforcement. The Nevada Restaurant Association is working with MORE and community leaders to help restaurants manage incidents and help homeless with services. Over time and increased cooperation, this unified relationship can raise awareness, assist in providing individuals the help they need and offer operators a safe and secure environment in their restaurants. 

* To become more involved in your local community the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department opens its doors for a public forum with the police officers who patrol your neighborhood the first Tuesday of every month. This program is an excellent opportunity to get involved with your police department.