Groups plan rally at City Hall to protest ordinance criminalizing homelessness

shiny ain't it
Las Vegas City Hall
shiny ain't it
Las Vegas City Hall

Civil rights groups and homeless advocates plan to rally Wednesday at Las Vegas City Hall to protest a proposed ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor if homeless people sleep or camp in a public right-of-way. 

The proposal would make it a crime, with a punishment up to a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail, if people are caught sleeping on downtown sidewalks and residential areas if there are beds available at emergency shelters or space open at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center. 

The new ordinance identifies several specific areas where it would be enforced, including the Las Vegas Arts District, Fremont East District and the Las Vegas Medical District. The bill is expected to be introduced at Wednesday’s city council meeting, and formerly scheduled to be publicly discussed at the Oct. 14 recommending committee meeting. 

“I can’t see anyway that an ordinance like this could be enforced fairly if it is even enforceable at all,” Sherrie Royster, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Nevada, said in a statement. “The problems southern Nevada and its homeless community members are facing cannot be solved with punitive policies, and criminalization is not a substitute for housing or services.”

The ACLU, the Nevada Homeless Alliance, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Make the Road Nevada, Straight for the Streets and Faith Organizing Alliance are among the many groups expected to organize. 

“(The ordinance) strips our communities most in need of their dignity,” said LaLo Montoya, the political director of Make the Road. “The mayor of Las Vegas should show leadership by addressing the housing crisis and focus on bringing more tools and resources to invest in affordable housing.”

In 2018, the City of Las Vegas proposed a similar ordinance that would have made it unlawful for a person to sit, lie down or camp on a sidewalk within 1,000 feet of any receiving dock of a food processing facility. However, the proposal was killed.

Around the same time, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes district courts in Nevada, ruled that cities can’t punish people for sleeping on the streets if there isn’t adequate shelter.

The City of Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic told Nevada Current the new proposal is within the guidelines put forth by the court. 

In addition to finding ways around the ruling, several western cities have signed on to an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court of the United States to hear a challenge to the court decision. 

“The city informed International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA) that we support the amicus and Supreme Court review and clarification of the Boise case,” city spokesman Jace Radke said in an email. “The city will not write a standalone amicus.”

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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