The Las Vegas City Council approved a controversial ordinance Wednesday that makes it illegal to rest, sleep or camp on streets and sidewalks in public areas downtown and in residential areas of Las Vegas when beds are available at established homeless shelters. Under the ordinance, violators could be charged with a misdemeanor crime and fined up to $1,000 or sentenced for up to six months in jail.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “far more opponents than supporters addressed policymakers,” at the council meeting, “calling for long-term regional solutions such as increased affordable housing and boosts to mental health and substance addiction treatment. Critics of the bill argued that it will ensnare individuals into a cycle of incarceration.”
Despite funding and resource shortfalls, city officials said they were working on long-term solutions. They stated that encampments must be addressed immediately as they present public health and safety risks.
The official website of the City of Las Vegas posted a news blog October 29 outlining the city’s efforts to address homelessness. Here are the seven factors that were outlined.
1. The proposed ordinance was designed to help direct people to the city’s Courtyard Homeless Resource Center and other existing nonprofits to connect those in need to services and help break the cycle of homelessness.
2. More than 6,500 individuals and families in Southern Nevada lack permanent housing – with 67 percent of our homeless population sleeping outside.
3. By helping get the homeless off the street into shelters, it will help the homeless and protects the health and safety of the entire community. Homeless individuals generally lack access to primary and mental health care and/or basic facilities designed to reduce public health risks such as bathrooms and refrigerators.
4. Communities fear that homeless street populations have the ability to reduce real property values by 5 to 15 percent. Loitering, panhandling, encampments, increased trash from food and other waste create blight and public health hazards in neighborhoods all over the valley. Research shows that wise investment into housing and homeless services actually maintains or increases the value of residential properties.
5. Homeless street populations increase the perception that an area is not safe. Though most homeless have an increased risk of becoming victims of crimes as opposed to perpetrating crimes, homeless people loitering in and around public spaces can create concerns of safety.
6. The city has always demonstrated compassion for the needs of the growing homeless population, understanding the public safety of everyone is a top priority.
7. The Downtown Las Vegas Alliance recently conducted a survey of their membership and found that 83 percent of downtown business owners support the ordinance.
Authorities reportedly will use discretion in enforcement, with only blatant violators who refuse to move subject to arrest. The bill also contains several exemptions including for medical emergencies and people with disabilities.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has stated that one solution for the homeless crisis is unused federal property. An existing law requires federal agencies to make such property, buildings and land available at no cost to use for housing, shelter, job training and other services to aid people living with homelessness.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, National Coalition for the Homeless, and more than 100 other organizations launched the Housing Not Handcuffs campaign in 2016 to place emphasis on housing as a solution to homelessness instead of punishing homeless people with fines and fees.
For more information on the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign, visit housingnothandcuffs.org.