The Las Vegas City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday that effectively makes being homeless a crime.
The new ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to camp or sleep in the public right-of-way (i.e. sidewalks) if space is available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center or another non-profit service provider.
Those charged under the new law may face a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
Supporters of the ordinance, which passed 5-2 on Wednesday, say it’s an attempt to push the more than 6,500 homeless people and families in southern Nevada into homeless shelters while also protecting the health and safety of the community.
The city council said Las Vegas has committed $16 million to the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center, which provides housing and a range of other services to address chronic homelessness.
“The city believes the ordinance will be a benefit to the homeless population, while at the same time protecting the health and safety of the entire community,” Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman said on Twitter. “The city has always demonstrated compassion for the needs of the growing homeless population, understanding the public safety of everyone is a top priority.”
But opponents said the law just makes it more difficult for homeless people to get back on their feet. Protesters at the city council hearing chanted “housing not handcuffs,” CNN affiliate KSNV reported.
“All this does is add one more law that can be used by police and prosecutors to criminalize people who are stuck on the street,” Gary Peck, the former head of the ACLU of Nevada, told KSNV.
The ordinance goes into effect this coming Sunday
A 2016 survey of over 400 homeless people in Las Vegas found:
• 84% slept most often outside of a shelter, including 52% who slept on the street, sidewalk or doorway
• 55% had not used any shelter services in the past year
• 31% said it was because of bed bugs; 18% said it was because of dirty conditions
• 29% said they became homeless because they lost a job
• 20% because they were unable to afford the monthly rent