As the economy recovers, local efforts help those left behind in Las Vegas

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I met Eddie Custard as he was sitting with all of his possessions on a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard bordered by cemeteries on both sides. He was sitting against a wall and homeless for two years, he tells me.

"I got laid off. Unemployment ran out," he said.

That's his path here. On these streets -- and tucked away in your community -- Eddie joins a homeless population that, last year, hit 6,500 people -- eighth-highest in the nation.

That fact is why, here in our "homeless corridor," Deacon Thomas Roberts is so thankful.

"We had a $10 million gift from the Fertitta family," Roberts told me, referring to the local gaming pioneers who went on to build the Station Casinos empire.

Roberts runs Catholic Charities, which sits in downtown Las Vegas at ground zero, surrounded by hundreds of homeless. They house hundreds of men each night and feed hundreds of men, women, and children daily.

The $10 million will do many things, he says, including updating the kitchen and sprucing-up the men's shelter.

"A percentage of the capital is going to the renovation of the campus, and to continue to refresh it for those that are being served by it now," Roberts said.

His charity not only helps those near Foremaster Lane and Las Vegas Boulevard but also operates 18 programs, including Meals on Wheels for Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.

Across the street sits what the city of Las Vegas says will be a homeless "one-stop shop." Its first phase, which currently sits on two plots of land, is scheduled to open in May, offering the homeless some help and hope.

"Eventually the property that we're standing on right now, and the property next door, will be combined into one larger property to create a larger "safe zone" – resource center – that will be open 24 hours a day," says Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher, the city's Senior Neighborhood Outreach Specialist.

In Southern Nevada, the Great Recession may be over, but for many, it's an uneven recovery. And you don't have to be homeless to feel it.

Just ask Marcia Blake, who runs the James Seastrand Helping Hands food pantry in North Las Vegas.

"We help 2,200 seniors a month with various services," Blake says. Her pantry is busier than ever. And so are the sidewalks of Las Vegas, where it looks as if our homeless population is exploding.

"I think we have more now, but I think we're seeing a lot more of it. It's just folks coming out of places that they may have been hiding," Bluitt-Fisher said. "So if they were under the freeway, Project Neon is now taking that away."

And they're now moving in plain sight, which is how we found Eddie, who sits in dignity and despair.

"I don't know what else to do," says Custard.

That's his struggle. And ours too.

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