Las Vegas Bans Sleeping in Public, & Many Say It Criminalizes Homelessness
Camping, lodging, sitting, lying down, sleeping and similar activities will be a misdemeanor in some areas of the city.
Las Vegas voted to ban sleeping in public spaces on Wednesday in a controversial move that many say criminalizes homelessness in the city.
The law, approved by the Las Vegas City Council, will take effect January 1, 2020. Once effective, camping, lodging, sitting, lying down, sleeping and similar activities will be a misdemeanor in some areas of the city. Offenders will face a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman says the law is just one of many steps she hopes the city will take and that it’s meant to encourage people to go to shelters.
“This is a first step,” Goodman said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “We wanted to do something. We've been waiting 20 years.”
But not everyone thinks the law is a positive move with many saying the city needs to create more shelters before it criminalizes sleeping outside.
Advocates and people who are experiencing homelessness were present at the council meeting during the decision. Some were holding signs that said “Surviving should not be illegal,” and chanting “Housing, not handcuffs!” More than 100 speakers asked the council not to pass the ban.
Heartless. Las Vegas passes a law specifically targeting the homeless, making it a crime to sleep on a city sidewalk. Tailor-made to give police officers carte blanche to harass the most vulnerable. Council members who voted for this should be ashamed of themselves. https://t.co/u4qBoYSWwc— Michael Bloch (@MichaelBloch15) November 8, 2019
Some groups have even scheduled mass camp-outs in solidarity with the homeless community in the area.
Several presidential candidates have also come out against the law, including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Tom Steyer, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
The law applies to the city’s downtown area and residential districts but does not apply to the Vegas strip. Las Vegas Mayor Pro-Tem Michele Fiore says the law will not be enforced if shelters are full. She says the city currently has about 1,300 open shelter beds.
Approximately 5,000 people are without a home in Las Vegas on any given night, and the city’s shelters currently only fit about half of the homeless population.
At least 160 cities across the U.S. including New York and Los Angeles have similar laws criminalizing sleeping in public spaces in parts of their city.