I follow Alan to the park. We emerge from the soup kitchen and cross the parking lot to the corner of Owens Avenue and Main Street. The afternoon glare of the Las Vegas sun hurts my eyes, and the dry air constricts my throat. Alan squints at the ground, stopping from time to time to inspect sudden flashes of light. Loose change or an aluminum-foil gum wrapper? He carries a plastic shopping bag steaming with wet clothes. We wade through sheaths of heat in what was once a shopping mall but now resembles a reservation for outcasts.
Weary-looking men and women trudge past us, accompanied by their children wedged into overstuffed shopping carts. Plastic trash bags filled with donated pastry turning green inside cellophane wrappers molder under the hot sun. Arms and legs stick out the windows of parked cars, the temporary refuge of the unemployed.
Lines of heat shimmer above the slumped bodies at rest beneath the one sign identifying this outpost: "St. Vincent's Plaza. Catholic Charities." Alan and I pause in the narrow shadow provided by the sign before we continue toward the intersection. The four corners, he calls this place: the nonprofit Strip of Las Vegas.
Most of the city's homeless services stretch around this barren township, and Alan and I join the estimated eighteen thousand homeless Las Vegans who eventually gravitate to this desolate spot. The Salvation Army