City of Las Vegas says SCOTUS announcement won’t affect homeless camping ban

By: - December 16, 2019 11:51 am

(Photo: City of Las Vegas)

(Photo: City of Las Vegas)

With the Supreme Court of the United States declining Monday to review a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that solidifies cities can’t criminalize homeless individuals for sleeping on streets, the city reiterates its campaign ban ordinance that passed in November won’t be affected. 

“The city of Las Vegas’ camping ban ordinance was written based on the Ninth Circuit’s language in the Boise decision,” the city said in a statement. “The city of Las Vegas’ ordinance will not be enforced unless there are beds available for the homeless to use, which was a key point made by the Ninth Circuit, and is a caveat that was not in the Boise camping ban ordinance.”

The city was expected to discuss a new ordinance at a Dec. 18 City Council meeting that would have further restricted sleeping and sitting on sidewalks during designated cleaning hours, which civil rights groups and homeless outreach workers said would have further criminalized homelessness. Prior to the Supreme Court’s announcement Monday, the city pushed the discussion to the Jan. 15 council meeting. 

In September 2018, the 9th Circuit, whose jurisdiction includes district courts in Nevada, ruled in Martin v Boise that cities can’t punish people for sleeping on the streets if there isn’t any alternative shelter. 

In a previous interview, Eric Tars, a senior attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said the decision also took into consideration the barriers for those experiencing homelessness to enter shelters. 

Following the court’s decision last fall, the city killed an initial proposal that would have banned sleeping or sitting 500 yards away from food processing facilities, which would have put homeless individuals who stay in the homeless corridor — an area near Downtown where services like Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center are located — in its crosshairs. 

After a contentious meeting Nov. 6 that drew criticism from homeless outreach workers, civil rights groups, presidential candidates and Clark County officials, the city voted 5-2 to ban sleeping and camping on downtown sidewalks if space is available at emergency shelters or at the open-air Courtyard.

Those opposed say the new ban will result in more homeless people going to jail — the City Jail estimates one in five inmates incarcerated are homeless — which will prevent them from exiting homelessness.

During a public hearing Dec. 2, City Councilwoman Michele Fiore argued the latest ordinance wasn’t a homeless ban. The proposal comes with a punishment with up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.