The Las Vegas City Council voted 5-2 in approval of a new ordinance that penalizes homeless who sleep on public streets or residential areas. Penalties are a $1,000 fine and up to 6-months of jail time. 

People in favor of the ordinance believe that it’s a step in the right direction, that it’s going to help, and hopefully eventually clear the streets. Those who are against it are saying it is criminalizing homelessness and is going to cause these people to commit more crime.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman joins TVT to explain the ordinance and the reasoning behind why it was passed. 

She first explains that the ordinance is first and foremost about getting those who can make choices to come into one of the offered facilities to get help in reclaiming a life of integrity and worth. “It’s not a negative,” Goodman says. “The purpose of this is to advocate for helping the homeless get back into life and getting them into the needed programs, such as jobs and housing.” 

 

Goodman goes on to explain that some cases involve drugs and alcohol. In these instances, being in jail would be a positive for them to be in sanitary conditions, have meals, and have time to detox and make a sound choice without drugs clouding their judgement. “This is a help driven incentive that won’t go into place anyway until February 1st. Nobody will be picked up and incarcerated at all, if in fact, we have beds. It’s only when the choice is made not to take advantage of the choice, to have a bed when the beds are filled. Otherwise they can be fined with a misdemeanor – not a felony,” she adds.  

Shapiro brings up a conversation he had with the mayor’s husband, Oscar Goodman, who proposed bussing some of these people to a vacant, former jail in Jean, Nevada. “Is that something down the road that maybe you would consider?” asked Shapiro. 

“I was asking [Governor Sandoval] for the use of the women’s prison in Jean as a facility for our severely mentally ill homeless residents. These are people that are so sadly handicapped by the depths of the mental illness. They can’t make choices that are wise for them. They do live in a very challenged sanitary and health condition. They are harmful to themselves and others. This prison is operated by the Department of Prisons. It was used for a while by the Clark County School District for storage. The problem, it’s stuck in state government,” commented Goodman. 

Goodman’s reasoning is largely focused on helping the homeless. There are certainly two sides to the debate. 

Supporters of Goodman’s ordinance think it is the humanitarian thing to do, as it directs suffering individuals to shelters that can assist in their productivity in getting back on their feet. 

On the other hand, people who feel this ordinance should not have been passed worry that homelessness is being criminalized and that this law is encroaching on their civil liberties. 

Shapiro shares that he thinks homelessness is a case by case basis. “Somebody knows one homeless person and they just assume everybody is just like maybe their family member. Some people are mentally ill, while some of them have substance abuse issues.” Whether it be alcohol or drugs or gambling. There’s a lot of different reasons for why you’re homeless – one reason can’t be pinpointed. Sharp on the other hand explains that these varying reasons are not available in a jail. If education takes place along with their jail time, rehabilitation can be achieved. This, however, would require more funding. The topic continues to stir controversial debate.

Erika Dagri

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