Nevada teens find community as they navigate homelessness and adulthood together

Clark County has one of the largest unaccompanied homeless youth populations in the nation.


Craig gets a haircut from another Shannon West resident.

Only first names have been used in order to protect the privacy of these young adults targeted by the stigmas around homelessness.

Southern Nevada has one of the highest rates of unaccompanied homeless youth in the nation. With over 1,200 reported homeless last year, Clark County’s rate of unaccompanied homeless youth is nearly double of Los Angeles County, the second largest metro area in the nation with a homeless youth crisis of its own. Clark County harbors the fifth largest unaccompanied homeless youth populations in the nation behind San Jose, New York, Seattle and Los Angeles.

For many youth experiencing homelessness, life contains a number of anecdotes of estranged relationships with family and loved ones or aging out of the foster system. Home becomes a series of motel rooms, couches or a street corner.

In Tim’s room at Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, Tim gets dressed for the center’s high school graduation celebration.

Tiffany, an aspiring model, scrolls through her phone in her room where images of past photo shoots are posted.

Tiffany sweeps outside her room at Shannon West.

But the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, offers a sense of stability. The center provides resources, including transitional housing for those between 16 and 24 years old who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless. They have access to three meals a day, a place to sleep and, along with a roommate, a space to call their own. The center’s staff encourage financial stability by helping temporary residents search for jobs and — once they get hired — prepare for that first day.

Beyond access to resources, residents develop relationships with others teetering life between childhood and adulthood while having to provide for themselves. These images capture life as a young adult at Shannon West over the summer of 2016. Through the isolating journey of homelessness, these teens and young adults find a sense of normalcy in navigating adulthood, hardships and celebrating victories together.

Tijah helps Chris apply for a job on one of the center’s computers.

Chris shares his music with another resident in a common area.

Residents joke around as they eat dinner together.

Residents Xavier and Jared look over plans for a clothing line they want to design.

Shannon West residents navigate questions about their gender identity and sexuality, what they want to do for work, how to save money. They fall in and out of love, get jobs and open their first savings accounts.

“Even though we’re homeless, we’re still growing, we’re still on a trajectory,” said Rob, a 22-year-old Nevadan and former University of Nevada Las Vegas student. “People are still needing to connect and still want to connect.”

On a summer night in 2016, the sun went down, taking the temperature with it. Shannon West residents trickled home from work or class and sat down to eat. That night, they didn’t worry about finding a place to sleep. Instead, they played basketball, shared songs between one pair of headphones.

Rob searches through clothing donations at the center for something to wear to his first job interview since becoming homeless. When Rob was evicted from his apartment, they withheld his possessions which included clothing, personal belongings and identification documents.

During his first weeks as a resident, Rob checks in at the center’s office. Though the process of navigating homelessness was uncomfortable, Rob found commonality with others at Shannon West.
Tiffany plays with her bracelet while talking with fellow Shannon West resident, Sam.

On a weekday evening, residents play basketball together after finishing their dinner and chores.

Tiffany sits on top of a laundry machine across from Sam.

Bridget Bennett is an independent photographer based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.