County official says city homeless ordinance would be burdensome, create fear

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Clark County Government Center (Clark County photo)
county bldg
Clark County Government Center (Clark County photo)

While updating Clark County commissioners on homeless services, county officials said a proposed City of Las Vegas ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to sleep or camp on sidewalks would create barriers to getting people off the streets

“We anticipate it will put fear into the population, which will increase our burden of connectivity and outreach,” said Tim Burch, the county’s administrator of Human Services. 

The city’s proposal briefly came under fire at Tuesday’s commission meeting. 

While social service officials updated the commission on the homeless programs that benefited from the marijuana business license fees — the county voted earlier this year to allocate about $12 million of revenue from the fees toward homeless services — County Commissioner Justin Jones asked how Las Vegas’ proposal would affect the work the county is doing. 

On Nov. 6, the council is expected to publicly discuss for the first time, and vote on, an ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to sleep or camp in a public right-of-way if there are beds available at emergency shelters or space at the Homeless Courtyard Resource Center. The punishment comes with up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

“I’m not sure the driver for said ordinance,” Burch said. “We have about 6,000 street homeless and only 2,000 shelter beds, hence (the County’s) investment in expanding the sheltering and housing opportunities. We’re not really clear on the purpose or desired outcome of that ordinance”

Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who sponsored the ordinance, has argued the proposal is about connecting those experiencing homelessness to the services available in the homeless corridor, specifically the Courtyard. 

However, the ordinance has already received pushback from civil rights organizations, homeless service providers and emergency shelters like Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, a presidential candidate, and national homeless rights groups such as the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 

And now county officials have weighed in. 

“It already takes on average about 13 contacts to build trust, because you have to have social capital so someone understands you’re really there to help them,” Burch said. “If they are facing addiction or mental health issues, we have to find them in that moment of clarity where they say ‘I want help and I’m in the space to make this decision.’ By heightening fear around that, it compounds their ability to make those decisions. We hope that more compassionate techniques prevail as we continue to work with our partners throughout the valley.” 

Since May, the County has allocated $855,000 million to increase beds at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, $930,000 to house medically fragile homeless released from the hospital and $6.1 million toward rapidly rehousing families.

The county also recently started a pilot program to help families on the brink of homelessness with short term financial assistance, such as one-month rental assistance, a car repair or a utility deposit. 

Burch said the diversion program is a one-time fix, but can help prevent people from entering the cycle of homelessness. 

“We recognize that people are making hard choices of not paying their landlord the rent that is due because if they don’t pay $250 to get the engine fixed on their car they can’t get to work and then can’t afford anything,” Burch said. “We’ve heard about our elderly who have to make the choice between medication and paying rent.”

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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