Las Vegas City Council Approves Controversial Homeless Law

Nov 15, 2019

Las Vegas will soon enforce a new ordinance that bans homeless people from sleeping on some city streets. For some city leaders, the new laws are a necessary step in addressing homelessness as a public health problem, but critics argue the measure is waging an illegal "war on the poor." KUNR's Paul Boger talked to Shannon Miller who's been reporting on the new law for The Nevada Independent.

"There's strong opposition from [service] providers, in addition to activist groups, who just believe that this ordinance criminalizes homelessness and doesn't give many options aside from criminalization and arrest for people who are already struggling to reenter into society and get jobs."

Supporters of the measure, however, say it will give law enforcement the ability to focus on “those not willing to get help” and that homeless situations drive business away from downtown. Those supporters include Patrick Hughes, president and CEO of the Fremont Street Experience who spoke in favor of the proposal.

"He seemed to be of the opinion that this ordinance would target homeless people who don't really want to take advantage of services to get them out of homelessness," Miller explains. "People who, the way he put it, aren't contributing to society or business, and [are] getting in the way of his business."

The new law also raises questions of constitutionality. Earlier this year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Boise, Idaho, law that banned homeless camping. According to the ruling, the city couldn't prohibit the practice if it also couldn't afford to find beds for those individuals. Miller says city officials in Las Vegas believe they have found a workaround.

"The city says that they don't have to worry about that because on the way the city attorney wrote the law was to get around that Boise decision by including a clause that the ordinance will not be enforced if there are no beds available in the shelters," she says.