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‘Tent on steroids’: Nonprofit setting up dining hall near downtown

Updated October 19, 2020 - 7:36 am

An enclosed dining area used by as many as 1,000 people on any given day was closed in March as Catholic Charities near downtown Las Vegas grappled with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

No longer able to operate the dining room safely, the nonprofit started to serve free meals outside on Foremaster Lane, where it set up tables and chairs, although at least some people sat on the curb to eat their food. Now it is readying a longer-term solution to better protect its clients from the outdoor elements and the coronavirus: “A tent on steroids.”

At least that is the goal as described by Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada CEO Deacon Tom Roberts in a recent interview.

“As we all learned through the summer, this was not going to go away quickly,” Roberts said, referring to a pandemic that has disrupted day-to-day life throughout the world for the last seven months.

So backed by a $2.1 million federal CARES Act allocation from the city of Las Vegas, Catholic Charities is constructing a tent-covered, open-air dining pavilion on the southwest end of its campus.

It will be capable of seating 280 homeless and low-income clients at a time, safely distanced from each other, and it will also act as a day center where people can meet case managers, learn about other programs and rest before the nonprofit’s indoor night shelter opens.

Roberts said the day center — featuring portable hand-washing stations, restrooms and security — is particularly key to lowering the tension and emotional trauma for clients at a time when the pandemic has increased social service demands as people lose jobs and the economy struggles.

Although it is expected only to be temporary, “this pavilion is going to probably be around a while because we’re going to need it,” Roberts said.

Construction began this month and Roberts said he hoped it will be completed in time for Thanksgiving, when the nonprofit normally serves a few thousand people.

Catholic Charities also hopes, with the pavilion, to bring back its volunteers who have not come around during the pandemic since the dining area closed, he said.

There have been other transformations on the 8-acre campus, which serves 4,000 people every day through myriad social services.

The men’s 400-bed emergency night shelter was overhauled: A revised layout ensures social distancing, acrylic barriers were added, face coverings are mandatory and washed daily, and the sanitization process has been enhanced, according to the nonprofit.

The shelter temporarily closed in March after a client and employee both tested positive for the coronavirus.

And there are also plans for a major renewable energy installation, expected to be completed by year’s end. Catholic Charities says that money saved through lower energy costs will be reallocated toward its overall mission.

“We do not intend to back down during a difficult period, and especially while navigating an uncertain future, we feel these fortifications are vital and will allow our organization to continue serving our community in need,” Roberts said in a statement.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.