Las Vegas homeless sleeping ban, Estimated 5,500 people living on the streets.
It’s not compassionate to allow people in the throes of addiction to remain on the streets. That’s one reason the homeless camping ban the Las Vegas City Council passed Wednesday was a good move.
The Las Vegas Valley has a homelessness problem. There are an estimated 5,500 people living on the streets. They’ve turned sidewalks and undeveloped land into tent cities. City officials worry about disease outbreaks and an increased risk to public safety.
The ordinance makes it illegal to camp and sleep in public areas or in residential neighborhoods. Violators will be charged with a misdemeanor that could result in six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. The law will apply only if there are shelter beds available.
Because Nevada is an early caucus state, several Democrat presidential candidates weighed in. “Proud to stand with folks in Las Vegas fighting against a proposed ordinance that effectively criminalizes homelessness,” tweeted Joe Biden. Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders all echoed the sentiment that homelessness shouldn’t be a crime.
Good news. Homelessness wasn’t a crime before, and it’s still not. Police aren’t going to arrest people for being evicted from their apartments. The concern is a misuse of public property. Yes, the public pays for sidewalks, roads and government buildings. That doesn’t mean there are no restrictions on how members of the public may use those things.
You can’t play a game of football in the middle of Maryland Parkway. You can’t set off fireworks at public parks. You can’t bring a gun into a school building.
In different contexts, all of those activities are fine, just like it’s acceptable to camp at a public campground, but not a sidewalk.
Critics of the ordinance also argue that Las Vegas is being cruel. Outside City Hall, protesters wrote messages in chalk that included “Where’s your empathy? Where’s your compassion?
Easy answer. It’s not compassionate to let someone struggling with addiction or mental illness to stay on the streets when a shelter is available. A majority of the unsheltered homeless in the United States struggle with one or both of those things. That’s according to an October report from the California Policy Lab at UCLA. Three-fourths had a mental health problem. The study showed that 75 percent of the unsheltered had problems with substance abuse compared to 13 percent of the homeless who had shelter.
That suggests that some homeless people would prefer to stay on the street using drugs instead of going to a shelter and getting clean. The connection between drug usage and homelessness is backed up by ample anecdotal evidence in places such as Oakland, Seattle and Los Angeles. For these folks, compassion is providing tough love, not enabling their destructive life choices.
Solving the homelessness problem won’t happen overnight. But bravo to the Las Vegas City Council for a courageous first step.