Two weeks after the City of Las Vegas approved a ban on sleeping and camping in a public right-of-way if emergency shelter beds are available, it is putting forth another proposal to further restrict sidewalk usage.
The latest ordinance, slated to be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting before advancing to a recommending committee meeting in December, will designate certain hours for sidewalk maintenance and cleaning, during which it will become a misdemeanor sleep or sit down in certain areas.
Similar to the homeless camping ban ordinance that passed Nov. 6, the new proposal comes with up to $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who is sponsoring the measure, declined to comment.
“Criminalization is not a strategy,” said Shalimar Cabrera, the executive director of U.S. Vets in Las Vegas.
According to a draft of the proposed ordinance, the Department of Operations and Maintenance is “authorized to determine and to designate hours of cleaning for public sidewalks.”
During those hours, “no person shall sit, lie, sleep, camp, or otherwise obstruct the cleaning of the designated public sidewalks by the Department of Operations and Maintenance.”
While Goodman said the original ordinance was designed to connect those experiencing homelessness with resources within the homeless corridor or at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center — the ordinance is only in effect when there is open space available at the open-air Courtyard — homeless providers and civil rights activists see it as criminalizing homelessness.
City officials have also cited the need to keep downtown streets clean for businesses.
Eric Tars, an attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said he understands a city needs to have a way to clean streets but it shouldn’t come at the expense of punishing those experiencing homelessness.
“We aren’t saying there is no way that Las Vegas can’t keep its streets clean,” he said. “This just isn’t the solution.”
Unlike the homeless camping ban ordinance, which wrote that officers had to first give warnings for people to relocate prior to issuing a citation or an arrest, Tars said the new proposal doesn’t seem to offer that requirement.
“This is incredibly punitive and counterproductive,” he added. “Even if a cleaning crew comes through and someone watches it go by, thinks it’s gone and that it’s fine to sit down again, according to this (language) they would still be in the timeframe of the designated hours so police could come up and cite them for obstructing the sidewalk.”
During a Nov. 14 Southern Nevada Homelessness Continuum of Care board meeting — a monthly meeting with service providers and government officials — Cabrera voiced frustration that members of the board weren’t consulted by the city prior to the ordinance.
Additionally, she was concerned that the board in its entirety didn’t have an avenue to collectively weigh in into the discussion.
“My fear is we’re not saying anything on something I feel we should be saying a whole lot more,” she said at the meeting. “This was a monumental decision made in our city as well as one issue that we should have better representation on.”
As Cabrera was bringing up her concerns to the board on Thursday, she had no idea a separate ordinance was being added to the Council agenda.
“It’s concerning our community worked so hard to collaborate and expand membership on the CoC board with different stakeholders including government jurisdictions and we’re not bringing these things up within the board,” she said in an interview. “The lack of communication is disheartening.”