LAS VEGAS — A proposed ordinance to criminalize camping or sleeping on downtown streets when beds are available at established shelters passed Wednesday night against a backdrop of protests in and around city hall.
Protesters flooded the Las Vegas City Council chambers with signs reading “Poverty is not crime” and “Eat the rich,” while others led led chants of disapproval aimed at Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who sponsored the bill, and council members.
“Housing not handcuffs! Housing not handcuffs! … Hey hey, ho ho — the war on the poor has got to go!” they yelled.
None of it swayed the council, which voted 5-2 in favor of the law. The measure will apply to the city’s downtown urban core, not the Las Vegas Strip, which is overseen by a different jurisdiction.
“This is flawed but it is a start,” Goodman said, noting Las Vegas’ economy relies on its image as an attractive international tourist attraction.“We have been having these conversations for 20 years, and we must have results.”
A line of people waiting to comment on the ordinance wrapped around the chambers. Before the first comment, Goodman warned the crowd that anyone speaking out in the audience risked being kicked out of the meeting.
“You can’t hear me if you keep screaming,” Goodman said, but yelling continued in the crowd. “Excuse me, let’s try to have some manners.”
The ordinance represents another chapter in the city’s decades-long effort to sweep homeless people off the streets of downtown – a campaign that has included some of the country’s harshest tactics.
The council criminalized food handouts to people in public, closed parks and outlawed naps within 500 feet of feces – a blunder that was later repealed. The former mayor – Carolyn Goodman’s husband, the flamboyant mob attorney Oscar Goodman – even proposed moving the homeless to an abandoned prison 30 miles away.
On Wednesday, Las Vegas residents and homeless struggling to survive on the streets stepped up to the microphone and rejected the proposed law.
If there’s money to build stadiums in Southern Nevada, there’s money to help people without roofs over their heads, said George Allen, a homeless man working in the home care industry,
“We need to be able to work together,” he said. “We need to find a way.”
Stretch Sanders, president of All Shades United, called the council “lousy” and alleged the mayor is out to feed herself – not “feeding the block.”
The ordinance “is a total camouflage for doing nothing,” said Las Vegas attorney Gerald Gillock. His office is in the 400 block of South 4th Street, where he encounters the homeless on the streets every day. “It doesn’t require the city to do one single thing.”
Protesters in the crowd peppered the public comment portion of the meeting with outbursts of jeers and cheers.
Goodman asked security to escort a man and a woman out of the chambers.
“Death to the bourgeoisie,” the man yelled, raising a red protest sign in the air. “Remove me!”
Several Democratic presidential candidates have weaved the Las Vegas ordinance into their campaigns – a strategy that has drawn criticism from GOP leaders.
“Democrat candidates for President opposing the ordinance the Las Vegas City Council is voting on today are advocating for the homeless to continue suffering on our streets,” said Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael J. McDonald in a statement. “Their pandering has also exposed them for the hypocrites they truly are.”
The GOP backlash follows opposition of the ordinance from former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and businessman Tom Steyer.
Contributing: The Associated Press.