Neighborhood Resource Fair Aims to Help a Downtown in Transition

We know the benefits of living in Downtown Las Vegas—proximity to arts venues, restaurants and bars, general walkability, variety of interesting homes—but often we ignore the less brochure-ready realities of life in the urban core, such as crime, poverty and homelessness. Neighborhood discussion groups on websites such as Facebook and Nextdoor are filled with reports of suspicious activity, break-ins and occasional “was that a gunshot?” postings. One can’t drive or walk more than a block without witnessing the homeless problem first-hand. And the line between “vintage home” and “poor house” is thinner than you might think.

Downtown’s not as bad as all that might make it sound, but the dichotomy is reflective of an area in transition, where the middle-class resurgence doesn’t necessarily uplift the lives of those whose means are lean and problems are more challenging. The Downtown Community Coalition, whose membership includes faith-based organizations, nonprofit agencies and local police, has been working to find solutions to crime, suffering and homelessness in the Downtown area.

Those solutions include neighborhood clean-ups, in which coalition members engage residents in blighted areas to improve both the visual appearance of and bonds within their communities, as well as build bridges between police and residents. Efforts such as these are designed to “empower people to fight crime themselves,” according to Harry Fagel, admin lieutenant of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Downtown Area Command and co-chair of the Downtown Community Coalition.

To that end, the coalition will host its second annual Downtown Neighborhood Resource Fair this Saturday, March 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Huntridge Circle Park (on Maryland Parkway between Charleston Boulevard and Franklin Avenue). The stated purpose of the fair, which is co-sponsored by The Center, First Friday Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, is to encourage residents in the area to learn about safety resources and sign up for Neighborhood Watch, but its mission goes much deeper. With approximately 20 service providers participating—including Community Counseling Center, the Rape Crisis Center, Huntridge Teen Clinic, Community Outreach Medical Center and Reformation Lutheran Church—the fair’s organizers hope to offset crime by addressing its causes, not just its symptoms.

“People commit crimes when they’re desperate—when they’re broke, dealing with mental illness, unemployed, or dealing with stress at home,” said Hektor D. Esparza, who is both an event organizer and a youth and cultural resource specialist at The Center. “I’d rather prevent the problem by hooking them up with job opportunities, affordable mental health services, or drug addiction recovery programs.”

The fair will also feature live music and dance performances, a bicycle clinic, and free food and refreshments. According to Esparza, only about 80 people turned out for last year’s inaugural resource fair, which was held on a very hot day in August. This year, he hopes the combination of better weather and increased awareness will bring at least double that number. Esparza says he’s been doing direct outreach to those in the community who would be most in need of the fair’s resources.

“I pass by people in need every single day—at the Circle K, bus stops, the barber shop—and I’ve been talking to them about this event,” he said.

Vegas Seven