Las Vegas City Council votes to criminalize being homeless

Homeless. Bill Morrow. https://www.flickr.com/photos/billmorrow/9615813900

The Las Vegas City Council just passed a controversial ordinance by 5-2 that makes street-camping illegal in certain areas if beds are available in non-profit shelters. There are 5,500 homeless in Vegas on any given day. The shelters only have room for 2,000. Metro will now be able to arrest people for sleeping on sidewalks if the shelters have vacancies, even if the homeless person is ten miles from a shelter with no way of getting there. Police can also chase homeless someplace else if the shelters are full. So, if there is one vacancy, do the arrests still happen? This really should be a job for social workers, not for law enforcement.

Also this only applies to shelters in the Corridor of Hope, which is a few blocks long north of downtown, and not to other shelters. Thus, the downtown Las Vegas Rescue Mission (which is big, well organized, and helps many people) could be full, with people sleeping outside. But if there are vacancies in the Corridor of Hope a few miles away, then the sleepers get rousted, maybe arrested?

Not only is this mean-spirited of the Las Vegas City Council, it seems badly thought out, rushed to completion. It’s unclear how homeless will get any help out of this. I participate in alcohol / drug recovery meetings at the Rescue Mission. There’s never just one reason why someone becomes homeless. Usually it’s a mix of alcohol / drug abuse, intolerable living situations, job loss and medical bills, and mental illness. And people can and do recover.

Yes, homelessness is absolutely a big problem. And since there are few if any public toilets in homeless areas they are going to poop somewhere. Maybe on someone’s lawn or behind a business. I wouldn’t like that happening when I lived or worked and neither would you.

Interestingly, the primary area being targeted is downtown, where Fremont Street Experience is. The Strip has few if any homeless. There’s just no place for them to wander and sleep. Private security will roust them. Everyone knows this. Rule #1 for Las Vegas locals is ‘Do not interfere with Strip business.’ Period. Full stop.

The real issue is that homelessness is a regional issue and needs to be dealt with on a regional basis.

There may be real challenges in coordinating communication between the courtyard and other facilities with Metro officers and the city’s own homelessness field workers. Metro has experience dealing with homeless issues. Although Mayor Carolyn Goodman has called for a roll-out of the ordinance by mid-November, it’s possible the enforcement will be delayed until February.

Even if it’s successful, there’s another problem, one that plagues local governments on this issue: The city would be chipping away at a regional problem. Without an accelerated countywide approach, any success figures will be short-lived.