A tense day at Las Vegas City Hall on Wednesday ended with a vote banning people from camping and sleeping in public areas if there are beds free at local homeless shelters.
Met with protests and impassioned speeches from Las Vegas city leaders, council members passed a controversial ordinance meant to ease the city’s increasing homeless population.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman acknowledged it’s just a small measure of success in dealing with an enormous problem creating both health and safety issues.
"So, at least we are doing something,“ Goodman said. “And no one can say, 'The city is having another meeting and they still haven’t done anything.' That's what’s happened. Too many meetings and no action.”
But this action would make it illegal to camp or sleep on sidewalks downtown or in residential areas if there is space in local homeless shelters. It has raised the ire of local activists and others who say it criminalizes homelessness.
Anyone who refuses to move could be charged with a misdemeanor carrying a possible $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
City staff say the goal is not to arrest the homeless but to push them toward existing resources
"You can’t force people to accept help. “ said Katie Krikorian, a small business owner who has lived in Las Vegas for 17 years.
“And the fact that they are not willing to take help today does not mean that they are criminals. It does not mean they don’t deserve the same rights every other American has," said Krikorian.
Two council members voted against it; Ward 1 councilman Brian Knudsen and Ward 3 councilwoman Olivia Diaz.
"I think there's bigger challenges to talk about,“ Knudsen said. “Mental health care. Housing. Health care."
"A lot of my constituency told me that they didn’t feel it was the right approach,” Diaz said. “They are compassionate neighbors who know that being homeless is a very difficult situation to navigate through and that it isn’t as easy as everybody thinks to get back on your feet. "
Tod Story, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, had this to say via an emailed statement:
I am extremely disappointed in the passage of this punitive, short-sighted ordinance. Believing that ticketing and incarcerating homeless individuals will motivate them to pursue other options is naive and cruel. We will continue to advocate for the rights of the homeless to access public spaces and defend their civil liberties whenever any government seeks to restrict them.
The ordinance goes into effect on Sunday but the criminal penalties will not be enforced until February 2020.