Excerpted from: Criminalizing Homelessness Is Not A Solution – Part I
Nashua, New Hampshire; Gainesville, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; St. Petersburg, Florida; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
What do these cities have in common?
… the practice of penalizing the homeless – or those who offer the homeless assistance – and, in essence, criminalize homelessness.
While, it’s true that many cities across the nation use legislative and punitive measures as a way of "dealing" with local homeless populations, the five cities listed above are the ones which caught my eye.
For about five years, members of the Green Valley Christian Center (GVCC) in Las Vegas, Nevada, have been handing out food to the homeless in their city.
This past March however, they found themselves being confronted by LV Metro Police when they tried to distribute food to those who live in a makeshift tent city along Foremaster Lane at Main Street.
An article in the Las Vegas Sun reported that church members,
"… didn’t know it at the time, but Metro officers had recently begun driving away church groups and others who try to give food, clothes and other donations to homeless people in the Foremaster area. Police have threatened to cite good Samaritans for any possible violation, such as parking in a no-parking zone."
One of those feeding the homeless, Geoff Sample, said:
"Three steps out of our vehicles, a Metro officer comes over, writes down our license plates and says, ‘I’m going to write you a warning… This is a new enforcement policy.’"
When Mr. Sample inquired if they could distribute the food to the homeless elsewhere, the officer informed him that they would be "written up" no matter where the distribution took place.
Note this: LV Metro Police had threatened to cite those folks for "… any possible violation."
I’m willing to bet the police would have even cited those folks for loitering if it would have prevented them from feeding the homeless.
This is not the first instance of Las Vegas using these types of tactics for "dealing" with its growing homeless population.
A couple of years ago, the city adopted an ordinance which made it illegal for church groups and other organizations to feed the homeless in public parks. "Violators" were subject to receiving citations from local law enforcement.
In a KLAS TV-8 news report, ACLU’s public advocate, Lee Rowland, said of the ordinance,
"This isn’t just about one person bringing a meal into the park, this is a political choice by the city to ostracize and persecute those people who are providing services that the city has failed to provide."
The ordinance was overturned when those groups and the ACLU of Nevada successfully sued the city in Federal court.
But perhaps the most despicable of examples regarding Las Vega’s locally elected leader’s attitude toward its homeless comes from the city’s own Mayor, Oscar Goodman.
An April 17, 2009 article in the Las Vegas Sun, mentioned that in 2001, Mayor Goodman had proposed a rather radical solution for dealing with the city’s homeless: busing them "… to a former prison in Jean [NV], 25 miles south of Las Vegas."
Apparently Mayor Goodman believes he was elected dictator and therefore has the right to violate anyone’s constitutional rights.
Personally, I believe that any elected official who would make such a moronic suggestion – such as the one made by Mayor Goodman – is unworthy to be a pubic servant.
Las Vegas’ economy is based on "tourism." It is therefore understandable that the city has a desire to minimize the visibility of homelessness.
What I don’t understand is why the city continues to pursue "legislative courses of action" which punish not only the homeless, but those who seek to show them compassion – especially since those methods have never succeeded at reducing the numbers of homeless.
One would think that elected officials would have already come to recognize that criminalizing homelessness doesn’t solve the issue. But, rather it is akin to chasing one’s own tail – it goes nowhere, except in circles.
It seems to me sadly ironic that in Las Vegas (a city often referred to as "Sin City"), which is in a state that has legalized prostitution – that something as charitable as feeding the homeless is being criminalized.