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Las Vegas City Council Passes Ordinance Criminalizing Homelessness

The Las Vegas City Council passed an ordinance to criminalize homelessness. The new law makes it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep on public streets if beds at established shelters are available. The Nevada Homeless Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada, and several other advocacy organizations opposed the measure. They urged the sponsor, Mayor Carolyn Goodman, to withdraw the bill from consideration and instead work toward real solutions. The City Council adopted the ordinance by a 5-2 vote on November 6, amid protests from dozens of activists who gathered at Las Vegas City Hall.

Las Vegas has the nation’s second greatest shortage of rental homes affordable and available for the lowest-income households, with a deficit of 59,370. Southern Nevada also faces a severe shortage of shelter beds and other vital resources for people experiencing homelessness, with nearly 1,800 homeless individuals and families awaiting placement in a homeless service program.

The new law will make it a crime to camp or sleep within any public right-of-way adjacent to residential property, within specific city districts, or within 500 feet of any receiving dock of a food processing facility, if space is available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or any publicly funded emergency shelter within the city’s jurisdiction. Violators could face up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Housing advocates call the law a cruel and misguided policy that will create additional barriers to obtaining housing and will cost tax-payer more than providing affordable homes. Critics also argue it will disproportionately impact vulnerable populations, such as homeless youth, people of color, transgender individuals, and people with disabilities, who face homelessness at higher rates and already have less access to shelters and resources.

A coalition of organizations including the Nevada Homeless Alliance, the ACLU of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, PLAN, and Make the Road NV, along with more than 300 individuals and other organizations joined coordinated efforts to oppose the bill, including submitting a sign-on letter. NLIHC also sent a letter opposing the bill to Mayor Goodman and City Council members. In addition, several Democratic presidential candidates publicly declared their opposition, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

“We are deeply concerned with the impacts this ordinance will have on our homeless community members and our system-wide regional efforts. We are committed to doing all we can to overturn this decision and help people connect to housing and resources, not jail,” said Emily Paulsen, Nevada Homeless Alliance executive director.

The law went into effect on November 10 but will not be enforced until February 1, 2020.

Read NLIHC’s letter opposing the ordinance at: https://bit.ly/2CVIGpT

More information about the Nevada Homeless Alliance is at: https://nevadahomelessalliance.org

More information about the ACLU of Nevada is at: https://www.aclunv.org/en