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Las Vegas City Council discusses another ordinance that would further criminalize homelessness

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Header photo: Protestors and activists gather on the steps of Las Vegas City Hall in opposition to Bill No. 2019-44. The bill will make activities such as sitting, sleeping or lying on the sidewalk a criminal offense during posted hours of street cleaning. December 2, 2019, Las Vegas, NV.

Reporting and photos by Brandon Summers

Las Vegas, NV - On the heels of a controversial ordinance targeted at Las Vegas’s homeless population, the City of Las Vegas proposed a new ordinance with similar intent in early December. Las Vegas City Council’s Recommending Committee introduced and approved Bill No. 2019-44 on Dec. 2, 2019, making this bill eligible for vote and adoption in an upcoming City Council meeting. Language in this bill, sponsored by Mayor Carolyn Goodman, makes it a misdemeanor to “...sit, lie, sleep, camp, or otherwise obstruct the cleaning of the designated public sidewalks…”.

Similar to an ordinance that made national headlines in November, Bill No. 2019-44 is designed to address the city’s concerns over homelessness in the downtown corridor. However, advocacy organizations such as Food Not Bombs Las Vegas, ACLU Nevada, and the Nevada Homeless Alliance are disturbed by the city’s decision to assign criminal penalties to those who will eventually be in violation of this ordinance. Around twenty protesters and local activists from several organizations rallied outside of Las Vegas City Hall just before the 10:00 am meeting. Some “chalked” the sidewalk with a variety of messages to display their discontent with the city’s recent policies while others held signs advocating for the homeless. One message read “criminalizing poverty is a horrible Goodman family tradition”, a message that alluded to policies instituted by Carolyn Goodman’s husband-- former mayor Oscar Goodman. The demonstration concluded with the activists chanting “Housing Not Handcuffs!” before the crowd proceeded inside.

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A demonstrator “chalks” the sidewalk outside of Las Vegas Hall ahead of a City Council Recommending Committee. December 2, 2019, Las Vegas, NV.

Bill No. 2019-44 was at the top of the agenda and members of the public were given an opportunity to comment. Emily Paulsen, Executive Director of the Nevada Homeless Alliance, opposed the bill quoting language from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):

“..Examples of laws and policies that criminalize [homelessness] include, but are not limited to, banning camping or sleeping in public, vagrancy, sitting, loitering or bathing in public places… evictions from homeless camps, also known as homeless sweeps, restrictions on panhandling and banning living in vehicles”.

Nathaniel Phillips, Organizing Manager with Make It Work Nevada, echoed Paulsen’s sentiments with the observation that bills targeted at homeless people “will carry a disparate racial impact-- and also a class impact.” Councilwoman Michele Fiore (Ward 6) responded to the concerns shared during public comment saying “every time someone comes up here and says we’re putting a homeless person in jail… I would really like for you to show me when the City of Las Vegas has ever jailed a homeless person”. Councilman Brian Knudsen (Ward 1), who opposed a similar bill in November, said he would “move forward without a recommendation”. Knudsen was formerly vice chair of the Downtown Vegas Alliance, a conglomerate of businesses which supported “homeless bill” 2019-36. His business, BP2 Solutions, is listed as a voting member of the alliance. While no member of the public spoke in favor of the bill, Bill No. 2019-44 passed with votes from both Fiore and Knudsen. The bill advanced to Las Vegas City Council where it will be eligible for adoption on December 18, 2019.