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Hearing, Protest Rally Today on Las Vegas Homelessness Ordinance

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The latest statistics show about 5,500 people are homeless in southern Nevada on any given night, an area with only about 2,000 shelter beds. (Kemecki/Morguefile)
The latest statistics show about 5,500 people are homeless in southern Nevada on any given night, an area with only about 2,000 shelter beds. (Kemecki/Morguefile)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
November 6, 2019

LAS VEGAS - Civil-rights groups and advocates for Nevadans who are homeless are protesting today at Las Vegas City Hall, just before a public hearing on a controversial homelessness ordinance.

The council is considering making it a misdemeanor to sleep or camp in public rights-of-way near homes, on the Strip, on Fremont Street, the Medical District or Arts District, and close to a food-processing facility.

Wesley Juhl, communications manager for the ACLU of Nevada, warned that could worsen the problem by forcing some people off the waiting list for housing known as the Community Queue, which already has 1,800 names on it.

"So if one of those people were to pick up a citation and not be able to pay it, or have this jail time on their record," he said, "that would take them out of the queue and make them unavailable for housing."

The ordinance includes language that would make it unenforceable if the city's shelter beds or public sleeping courtyard are full. Mayor Carolyn Goodman has defended the idea, saying it's designed to give people who are chronically homeless an incentive to accept help at the shelters, while addressing the crime and sanitation concerns of business owners and residents.

Reno has adopted a "housing first" policy that prioritizes affordable housing and mental-health services. Juhl said Salt Lake City has had major success with this approach.

"So, they've adopted policies like that," he said, "and their chronic homeless numbers have gone down, like 72%, since they've instituted it."

A violation of the proposed Las Vegas ordinance would carry a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. The city of Boise, Idaho, passed an ordinance last year banning sleeping and camping in public spaces, but it was overturned in court and currently is under appeal.

The City Council meeting agenda is online at lasvegas.primegov.com.

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